If you’re an adult, you probably remember food pyramid posters hanging in the cafeteria at school or on the wall in your health class. We all learned, at least in the U.S. that the current form of the food pyramid was what built a healthy body and life. It all started with getting most of your calories from grains like pasta, bread, rice, etc. Then you had your vegetables and fruit, then meat and dairy, and then fatty foods and sugars at the top.
What’s weird about the food pyramid is that it hasn’t changed officially for decades. If you go online and do a search for “food pyramid”, you’ll get a lot of different results, but the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture still promotes the grain-heavy pyramid that continues to come under a lot of scrutiny.
Right now, people in the U.S. are arguably unhealthier than they’ve ever been. Many people struggle with health conditions tied to obesity, and there is good evidence to suggest that obesity stems from overconsumption of grains as well as sugars and unhealthy fats.
So what should the food pyramid really look like? A food pyramid designed for our modern knowledge of overall health should place more emphasis on vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats. Rather than forming the base, grains comprised of simple carbohydrates should be eaten sparingly, if at all, and dairy should be optional rather than a daily staple. Most importantly, a modern food pyramid should provide a solid but light framework with flexibility for everyone to make it work for their own optimum health.
As we become more informed consumers, we can make better choices about the food we eat and how it will affect our health. Here’s a look at how we got here and some things that will help you decide what foods you should be eating to stay healthy for longer.
History of the Flawed (Current) Food Pyramid
How did we get here? With so much money and resources available, how did the U.S. Department of Agriculture come up with a food pyramid so unfit for current needs? Let’s examine what happened.
In 1992, the government issued its official guidance in the form of the food pyramid. In it, it laid out what we’ve come to know today. Of course, the pyramid came out after much debate, and there were a lot of complaints about it back then.
People worried that the pyramid didn’t account for variation in body size, age, gender, occupation, etc. It simply prescribed a range of foods to fit everyone. Most of all, it focused on the best way to get calorie-dense foods at affordable costs. That meant heavy on the carbs in the form of bread and pasta.
Later, in 2005, the food pyramid changed, this time accounting for differences in age, level of activity, and other factors. It was a good step but was incremental at best. Since 2005, the food pyramid has continued to adapt and take into account new information we have on high carbohydrate consumption and what we know now about unhealthy saturated fats.
In 2015, the U.S. Government issued new guidance on dietary guidelines for Americans. It covered public nutrition guidelines and outlined what kids should be eating in our schools. The new guidance also covered food labels and other regulatory concerns.
Is There a Conspiracy Here?
Some people think there may be a conspiracy at work when it comes to the design of the food pyramid. They claim that the food manufacturers, to get us to consume low-cost, high-margin foods, exercised undue influence on political figures during the food pyramid creation process.
The question, here, is whether something deserves the label of “conspiracy”. The way the government works, there will always likely be some form of lobbying from food manufacturers. Whether they are giving donations directly to politicians or sponsoring scientists involved in the scientific research process, they are going to try to make sure they come out ahead when it comes to public guidance.
The bottom line is that any guidelines that come from the government should not trump personal research. It should inform your decisions but should not be the only source you go to for how you eat, exercise, raise your kids, or any other vital issue. It’s part of the solution, not the whole solution.
Diets are particularly important that need personal effort from everyone to get right. People react to foods differently, require and burn different amounts of calories each day, and have different metabolisms that process calories at various speeds. You’ll need to tweak your diet to get it right.
Science Behind Eating Too Many Grains
Grains are the biggest source of calories, and many people around the world rely on them for energy to get through the day. If you have a demanding job that burns a lot of calories, you’re an athlete, or something comparable, you’ll need a lot of calories from grains.
Some people think whole wheat and other healthy grains should be an important part of our diets. Others think we should avoid them altogether.
The science behind eating too many grains often comes down to whether they are whole grains or refined. Essentially, people think that grains offer empty calories. They have some fiber and healthy minerals, but for the most part, you’re better off getting those calories along with more nutrients in things like vegetables, meats, etc.
At least whole grains have something good to them. When they are refined, though, they are almost void of any nutritional value. They leave you feeling hungry and in need of more nutrients even after you’ve eaten all those calories.
Is Dairy Even Necessary?
Right now, the U.S. Government suggests three servings of dairy each day. Whether you’re getting that from milk, cheese, yogurt, or some other dairy product, it’s thought that three servings will give you the protein and calcium you need. But is that true?
New science shows that dairy may not be all that important, and we can get protein from other sources that don’t harm the environment or our bodies. In Canada, the government there recently changed its guidelines, grouping dairy products in with proteins, encouraging people to choose how they get their protein. You can also get better calcium delivery in your body by taking a daily supplement.
Modernizing the Food Pyramid Model
Feeling like you can’t trust the government’s version of the food pyramid can be confusing. If we’re told that grains are good and should make up the bulk of our diets, then why are so many Americans still unhealthy?
It’s hard for anyone to change the way they eat. Modern food manufacturers make tasty, affordable treats that are almost always high in grains, sugars, and other things that are bad for us.
However, if we want to be healthy now and as we age, it requires a rethinking of the food pyramid away from such a heavy reliance on grains. People should be eating way more vegetables, protein, and healthy fats than the current pyramid suggests. Grains like pasta noodles, white bread, cakes, etc. should be eaten only sparingly, if at all. Dairy products should be in their own “if desired” category instead of in their individual block.
And, people should emphasize other aspects of healthy lifestyles in addition to a diet. A good diet is part of a healthy overall plan that includes exercise, vitamin supplementation, getting good amounts of sleep, and other things you can do to stay fit and feeling good.
The thing about food science is that it’s always changing. The way we make our food and what’s good for us will probably be different in the future depending on what we do every day and what our world looks like. It’s vital we keep an open mind and try new things and stick with what works.