Does The Food Pyramid Give Good Recommendations?

www.mypicshares.com

For years I’ve thought the Food Pyramid was wrong, even before I changed the way I think about food. There are so many things wrong with it, it’s difficult to know where to start!

The Food Pyramid is a pervasive convention in our society. You’ll see it in many environments like hospitals, schools, universities, on the Internet, and some doctor’s offices. It concerns me that this chart is so widely used and accepted and that it gives bad advice about how to eat.

It’s also probably not a coincidence that you will find many of the big corporate entities like General Mills, Heinz, Campbell’s Soups, Kraft Foods, and Kellogg’s (they even have a special nutrition program geared to help consumers understand about nutrition via the Food Pyramid) creating partnerships with and supporting educational information featured on the USDA web sites for the Pyramid.

And why not? The Food Pyramid conveniently lists many of the foods those companies produce. So it’s a win-win for AgriBusiness which receives massive subsidies from the government for the products they produce on factory farms and commercial facilities growing produce in conventional ways.

Here are just some of the problems I have found with the USDA recommendations on the Food Pyramid:

Grains The recommendations are for 6 – 11 servings per day. I don’t know how anyone could actually eat that many servings a day, but back when I was eating a lot of grains, I was sicker than I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve reduced my intake of grains to about two or three times a week, and my health is much better. Everyone’s health is different and some people can eat certain things while others cannot, but I have to say that in my experience I have come across a great deal of people who must limit their grains to sparing amounts and some who cannot eat them at all.

My neighbor who is a nutritional therapist has told me that most people have some type of grain intolerance these days because our food supply is so over-saturated in grains (and unhealthy versions of them, at that), such that our bodies are just not tolerating them well as time goes on. I’ve heard this from at least a half a dozen other alternative health care practitioners too. Really, it’s no wonder we have such an epidemic of obesity and health problems with recommendations to eat so many grains daily and the fact that grains are so readily available in our food supply and sold in convenience packaging. Anyone who consumes that many carbohydrates is bound to develop a weight problem!

On the kid’s pyramid web site, the advice goes as far to explain the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates. It states that simple carbs are found in foods with refined sugar and should be passed over in favor of foods containing nutrients like fruits and milk. Okay, that’s fine but then it goes on to say that complex carbohydrates include foods like crackers, pasta, bread, and rice – most of which are also as processed and full of simple sugars as can possibly be! If a child really were to eat the serving recommendations a day from the grains group, I’d be shocked if they didn’t start having behavior and health issues (such as weight) in not much time at all.

Some Food Pyramid versions I’ve seen recommend “fortified” cereals and breads – which are harmful to your health because these are processed, extruded foods with the real nutrients stripped out. The pyramid also tells us to eat “half of our grains as whole”. Why only half? I guess that means the other half can be just completely processed garbage that’s not good for us then. Where’s the logic here?

Another oversight is a complete failure to address the way to properly prepare grains in order to achieve maximum nutritional benefit. In order to lower levels of phytic acid which are present in grains (including corn and other foods like soy, nuts, legumes, and some vegetables), it becomes necessary to soak, sprout, and/or ferment them. Phytic acid is an agent which blocks nutrient absorption, and because it is an anti-nutrient, it can actually remove nutrients from the body that are already there.

Fruits and Vegetables. I don’t have a problem with the recommendations for fruits and vegetables so much, but I do believe that the servings given for vegetables might be difficult to consume each day. If you ate vegetables at every meal and two snacks daily, you would be consuming¬† 5 servings daily. But so far, I’ve never met anyone who does this.

There are a lot of companies who make supplements, food bars, drinks, and other products to try to pack in something ridiculous like 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily (usually powdered or freeze-dried). I believe this is a response, in part, to the Food Pyramid’s recommendation to eat such a large serving of fruits and vegetables daily.

I really believe the best way to get any food into your body and achieve maximum nutritional benefit is to eat it in its whole form. There are always exceptions, such as people who are severely malnourished (in developed countries there are many people who are) and need an extra boost to catch up. But you must be very careful about which products you buy as most of them are probably full of chemicals and preservatives rather than real food. So if you are one of those people, it would seem prudent to read labels and make sure what you are buying is as healthy as possible and contains real food.

Meats, dairy products, poultry, fish, beans, and nuts There is a lot of misguided information about meat and dairy products from being told to eat low-fat versions of foods to avoiding red meat and eating more fish and poultry. So much of what is available to buy is an altered version of the real food that it should be.

For example, most meats are the commercially and industrially-produced variety, full of hormones, antibiotics, and from animals on feedlots that are fed corn, grain, and soy (all industrial waste products and majority is genetically-modified). Healthy meats are those from sustainable farms where the animals and birds are raised on pasture and any supplemental feed given is not from genetically-modified sources nor is industrial waste.

Dairy selections are similar and are recommended to be skim or low-fat. Full fat versions of meat, dairy, fish, and poultry products are always healthiest because foods with fats and proteins are some of the most nutrient-dense available – and score higher than vegetables, grains, and fruits. We need real, full fats to maintain healthy weight, cholesterol, mood, and hormone levels just to name a few reasons. Yet government and other health sources suggest we eat these foods in “moderation” while loading up on grains, fruits, and vegetables “generously”.

Why is there no mention of organic, or at the very least, sustainable meats and dairy products produced by farmers who don’t use chemicals, pesticides, hormones, medications and antibiotics, as well as farmers who feed their animals the correct types of food so their meat and other products are actually healthy to consume?

Fats and oils The USDA says “use sparingly”.¬† And they recommend consuming toxic vegetable oils like canola, soybean, and cottonseed oil on top of that, but no mention of healthy oils like olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, or lard, tallow, or butter from healthy sources. Again, we need fats and oils in our diets every day to keep good health intact. Oils are necessary for healthy skin, hair, fingernails, as well as brain development, and fats are also necessary for the reasons I outlined above.

Exercise The Food Pyramid now also includes something about exercise. While I believe exercise is important, I don’t think it really belongs on the Food Pyramid. Read my take on how exercise impacts your ability to lose weight.

Something new the Food Pyramid and U.S. government have added to their library of information about health is the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food resource. While I’m encouraged to see this move and glad to see encouragement for supporting local farmers, from what I’ve seen on this site there’s not much emphasis on eating clean food with no added pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and other harmful additives that don’t add to health – and for that matter, cause health problems? It’s a big contradiction on the part of the USDA and Food Pyramid to recommend “knowing your farmer” and yet have absolutely no mention of farming sustainably and supporting farms and farmers who use those methods.

What changes would you make to the Food Pyramid that I haven’t mentioned here?

12 Comments

  • March 17, 2010 - 3:41 PM | Permalink

    I agree. I eat maybe close to that many grains, though, since they count such a small amount as one portion. I hope everyone figures out that fat is okay- beans and meat and veggies aren’t very good without fat, so people resort to the only ‘okay tasting’ nonfat thing- refined flour!

  • March 17, 2010 - 5:45 PM | Permalink

    Hi Cara – I also really hope people figure out fat is okay. That’s got to be one of the biggest food mistakes there is in this universe! The other day I said to someone who’s been on a low-fat, low calorie diet that “doesn’t it seem strange that people have been eating low-fat foods and been told to eat low-fat foods for the last 40 or 50 years, and yet the obesity epidemic and health epidemic just keeps getting worse?” Then I added, “if it was working, wouldn’t people be getting healthier and losing weight?” The person barely nodded. Somehow, the connection still wasn’t made. Unbelievable!

  • March 18, 2010 - 10:15 AM | Permalink

    I agree with your argument about the Pyramid – professionally I find it useless and I’ll do my best to steer people away from it.

    But I don’t agree that it’s impossible to eat all those vegetables. I find it easy to get 5-10 servings of vegetables a day. I just eat them at every meal.

    For breakfast, I might have eggs with asparagus or broccoli or tomatoes or whatever’s in season. That’s 1-2 servings.

    For a snack I’ll have a salad or some yogurt with fruit or some steamed veggies with butter or olive oil or goat cheese. Another 1-2 servings.

    For lunch I usually have a big salad that is upwards of three servings of veggies on its own, with some soaked nuts and seeds, or cheese, or kippered herring, or smoked salmon, or something like that.

    Another snack might be a piece of fruit with some nuts or cheese.

    And at dinnertime I try to fill up half the plate with vegetables – sliced peppers, baked eggplant, roasted carrots, and so forth. I always pack my soups with vegetables, and we always have salad with dinner. So I think my family (including our 3- and 5-year-olds) easily get the “recommended” amount of vegetables, and without much effort because we all love them.

    But I agree with you otherwise. I’m especially disgusted to see that picture of vegetable oil on the Pyramid. And I don’t think there’s any excuse for eating refined carbohydrates. It’s like they’re going out of their way to kill us.

  • March 18, 2010 - 11:44 AM | Permalink

    Chandelle – thanks for your comments. I certainly agree that you can eat that many servings of vegetables daily, just that most people I know don’t. And in fact, not only do they not get in that many a day, a lot of them barely eat one serving a day. So it’s not so much that it’s not possible, just more that most people don’t do it.

    I frequently eat vegetables in my eggs in the morning. Guess what the reaction is that I get from most people? “Gross!” One of my friends actually said she liked broccoli but that there was no way on earth she’d eat in in her eggs (I eat it in mine frequently). So I think my point was simply that even though those recommendations exist and are probably good for us to follow, most people simply won’t and don’t do it.

    More people should definitely eat like you and your family. If you eat like that every day, that is fantastic! But I know in our house, my son and husband only eat two servings at most, of vegetables each day (that’s still more than most people I know). Even if I’m eating veggies at all meals, I usually don’t eat them for snacks. My snacks consist mostly of fruit, sprouted nuts, and raw cheese. Sometimes I have a raw milk smoothie with various things in it. My son absolutely refuses to eat vegetables at morning meal, and I don’t want to fight with him about it because he eats more vegetables than most kids I know. My husband usually drinks his glass of raw milk, has some fruit, and goes out the door. He doesn’t like to eat much early in the morning. I figure I’m lucky he drinks raw milk and eats a bit of something else that’s not terrible and processed. I make a lot of soups, stews, casseroles, and other meals with vegetables in them, and we eat those for lunch and dinner.

    I’ve recently switched from raw/cooked to mostly steamed, baked, or sauteed vegetables right now as I’m doing an experiment to see if our health conditions change at all from eating cooked vegetables versus a lot of raw since many raw vegetables have phytic acid (nutrient inhibitor) in them to prevent nutrients from being absorbed. It’s just testing out my wondering about the theory of how raw vegetables are digested into our bodies versus cooked. I’m also going to start lacto-fermenting some vegetables too to see if that makes any difference.

    My father-in-law made an interesting comment to me once. He said that if everyone in the world ate the required servings per day of vegetables, we would have a world-wide food shortage. I wonder if that is true?

  • March 18, 2010 - 12:12 PM | Permalink

    The vast majority of “vegetables” eaten in the U.S. are potatoes and tomatoes via processed foods, and those are definitely problematic as far as chemical application and monocropping. So I think it’s important to first move away from these so-called vegetables and eat real foods, locally-grown or healthfully preserved vegetables. I’m not going to avoid vegetables from my farmer’s market because of the fear of food shortage! That makes no sense to me.

    I didn’t mean that I eat veggies IN my eggs. That does sound kind of gross! :) I just eat them on the side. I definitely prefer cooked or fermented vegetables to raw. I love salad but I usually have raw greens with steamed & chilled or fermented vegetables on top.

  • March 18, 2010 - 1:20 PM | Permalink

    Chandelle – You’re right, there are far too many foods that are not really foods which people think are vegetables and are healthy to eat…education about those matters is the tricky part. I’ve actually had some people stand there and defend certain processed foods that contained vegetables in them, and because they were “easier” and more convenient to prepare, that won out for them over preparing vegetables from scratch – and then also were just as healthy in their minds. It’s insane, but it happens.

    It’s funny what people’s perceptions are about food and the food supply. My father-in-law has a valid point, but you’re right, it’s not going to make me avoid buying or eating more vegetables. Fortunately for those of us who know the difference between real food and fake food, I don’t think that will ever be an issue simply because there are a certain percentage of people who will never care about buying real food and who won’t make the effort. I just think it’s interesting to contemplate what might actually happen if everyone were actually eating all the vegetables they are supposed to each day, and whether that would actually cause a world-wide food shortage.

    The veggies in the eggs is definitely something many people don’t get into much. I think I might be one of the only ones I know who likes it. My husband will eat it in omelets, but really no other time. I just sautee my broccoli or zucchini or whatever in butter and then add my scrambled eggs and cheese. It’s pretty good, especially with fresh salsa! But still, I know most people just don’t dig it. :)

  • celine
    April 9, 2010 - 2:24 PM | Permalink

    Hi Raine, I recently purchased “The diet solution book” and the style of eating (cause its not dieting) is exactly what your taking about. Organic fruits and veggies and cage free, free roaming sustainable meats..It also talks about raw milk… And it mentions the dangers of un fermented soy roasted nuts ect… Its a great program and I’m trying to buy as much as I can organically for fruits and veggies and no hormone or antibiotic meats and poultry… I am on a budget with one income and it is difficult to buy organically grown foods So I grow a garden every year…Love it…Love you …. you are now bookmarked lol,…thank you…

  • April 10, 2010 - 9:49 AM | Permalink

    Celine – thanks for your comments. It is tough to eat organic on one income, that’s pretty much what our family has and has had for the last 10 years. Right now it’s even more challenging since we have just started a business and sometimes we don’t get paychecks for many weeks. I am hoping things will pick up as the year rolls on and food shopping won’t be so stressful and worrisome for us. What types of tricks have you learned to save money on healthy foods?

    The Diet Solution Book sounds really interesting. I’ll have to put that on my “to read” list. It’s so great to find out about more books like this being written. Thanks!

  • Daboss
    October 27, 2010 - 12:53 PM | Permalink

    Well after reading skinny bitch, there are things i just dont eat due to how our food industry handles the animals. Plus eating red meat, fish or other animals leaves me vulneral to the environment the animals were in.
    Since they are pumping our food with antibiotics, when we get sick, we cant get cured easily. The disease has mutated to with-stand medicine for us. Plus eating meat makes you harmonal, and for you women out there, lets put the harmones to rest a lil huh. LOL
    In addition, this animal based diet was to enginerred a biger human race. We were too small with just eating roots and berries, and fruits. Now they anti up the dosage of food, put extra harmones in our meat, and the kids come out looking 30yrs old, but they cant even walk yet.
    Marketing is whats gonna keep us a fat ass society. Obesity is a problem in this contry, because people dont know enough about the truth. the usda fda – is influenced by corporate money, and when the money is on the table, you can forget about whats in our best interest as a general public. They want whats best for there pockets.
    So plz, if you are mainly animal based diet, i hope you have a good pension plan, or insurance thats out of this world, cuz as you get older, your long days in the hospital or coming.
    Look up Dr Rave’s diet -

    • October 27, 2010 - 1:18 PM | Permalink

      Daboss – from reading what you have written here, it’s clear to me that you didn’t read the entire document nor learn about the difference between factory-farmed, commercial meat and meat products and that which comes from healthy animals on pasture. That said, it is imperative to understand that we are getting obese, heart disease, cancer, hormone problems, and many other health issues directly from the consumption of factory meat and meat products, none of which I have ever advocated consuming here. Please take the time to read and inform yourself before commenting. I get extremely frustrated when people leave comments criticizing something I have written which could have easily been solved for had they actually read the content.

      Also, for the respect of everyone else on this site, please refrain from profanity. Sometimes children come across this site and I’d like to keep the language inoffensive for everyone.

  • Mia
    March 19, 2011 - 11:54 AM | Permalink

    I have recently become aware of these issues and started to change my eating habits. I’m a carnivore through and through, so, with every meal there has to be meat included. To make matters worse, most veggies and fruits are on my ‘no’ list. I know, broccoli’s good for you, but I just cannot get it down and when I get it down, it won’t stay there.
    So, I am a prime candidate for nutritional supplements. Those I take have been manufactured from real fruits and veggies, and they are protected by international patents, fulfill GMP Standard and are even accepted by the Swiss Vitamin Institute.
    But that’s only one part of my daily nutrition. I recently became aware on what the food I bought from the store contains. There are ‘foods’ that have 30 different ingredients like preservatives and flavor enhancers. There are ‘fruitcakes’ out there, where the actual percentage of fruit is 2% of the whole cake!
    So, I started digging. Books, the internet, and I found addresses of places, companies, where they still produce ‘real food’. Food that is not full of stuff with E-codes or preserves or flavor enhancers etc. I buy my meat and milk from those sources now than the shit they call meat in those normal stores.
    I recently watched on the telly a documentary, where they said, that in a years time, we eat up to 5 kg in those additives in food and, even though the additives as such (a single item) is harmless, in connection with others and over-dosage, they can cause all kinds of illnesses that we, in a developed country, come up at every turn.
    We all know, that when we take a cocktail of medicine, that they can have bad side effects, and we are told about them. No-one has tested those additives that are put in our daily food what kind of side effects they can have when put together in a cocktail and then added to our food. And then you don’t take them only for a short period, like you do with your meds. No, you take them every single day of your entire life and it mounts up to a huge amount accumulated during your whole life.
    So, even though my food range is quite limited, I try to do my best to eat as versatile as possible, veggies that are in season, meat and eggs from ‘happy animals’ that have been fed what their actual diet is.
    I read an article last year, that you in the States have some farmers who have ‘grass fed cattle’. Tests, that were taken after the cows had been slaughtered, showed that those cows had a higher percentage of Omega3 fatty acids than cattle that had been fed its industrial garbage. The tests were repeated over the years with the same result. So, in feeding animals what’s due to them according to their real diet, they produce healthier meat, are seldom sick and… according to that article, also cheaper to keep.
    What comes to grains… I love my bread. Sorry, but… I see to it, that it is whole grain. Sure, once in a while I also like me some french bread, white toast, just for some special occasions. I have made the experience, though, that afterwards I get hungry quite fast again, which is no real wonder, it doesn’t have much to keep me satiated. It’s processed pretty fast and out.
    But… there are bakeries out there, who color their bread with the same color from which Coke gets its color from, just to look ‘healthy’ whereas they are as healthy as the white bread. So, I rather have an ‘honest’ white bread instead of the fake brown colored bread that only suggests via its color that it’d be healthy. Whole grain is the best there is.
    I have also switched from margarine to butter. I did this, after I found out, that in most margarines are trans fats which the body does not recognize as fats and they stay in the arteries. With time they get deposited around the walls of the arteries and when there are many… over the years, the arteries get clotted and we have high blood pressure. Instead of going to the source and eliminating that, we are given meds against high blood pressure! In butter, there’s real fat, no trans fats, and it will be recognized and used in our body.

    I have a new pet peeve right now. I’m living in Finland, and here, when they process milk, they take out of it its healthy ingredients. Now they started marketing a ‘healthier milk’ because they have put back in those things they had taken out in the first place! Here in Finland, there are many who are lactose intolerant… well, here in Finland. Many of them, when traveling abroad, they can suddenly use normal milk!
    I have now found a source of raw milk and will soon buy it and try it out myself. I vaguely remember drinking it some years back, about 16 years ago or so, but I don’t remember its taste. A friend of mine brought it with her from home, since her parents had a milk farm.

    I have also read about fermentation and what it can do for ones health. I haven’t tried it out, yet, because I haven’t found recipes I can use. Well, there was one thing that sounded great, Volgan mushroom tea / Kombucha. But in order to get it started, one needs to have the mushroom, which can be ordered via the net, but also at least 1 dl (to the litre) of that tea itself. I haven’t found a source of that tea here in my area, yet.

    My goal is, to produce my food from as much as from scratch as possible, reduce the intake of additives in my food as much as possible and stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible. A cold now and then is just ok in order to keep my immune system running. It needs a run once in a while to stay in training. But, my cold, flu or so lasts a much shorter time than those my friends have, so I must do something right.

    • April 12, 2011 - 3:48 PM | Permalink

      Hi Mia – thanks for sharing your tips/comments and experiences. I’m so glad to hear about each and every person who comments that they are trying to grow their own food, ferment and culture, support local-sustainable farmers, and prepare foods from scratch at home. Keep up the great work and hope to see you here again! :)

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>