Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Food Pyramid Facts: Part Three

The following is the rest of the story about how the USDA Food Pyramid came about. I do not refer to this pyramid, however, for my own dietary guidelines. Instead, I use Harvard's Food Pyramid.

I think it's important to stop and consider where our dietary guidelines have evolved from. When you are going through school at a young age, you learn the basics, but from then on out, you must rely upon your common sense, your intuition and your body to tell you what to eat. I mention this because it seems particularly difficult to use common sense when we are bombarded with sexy advertisements and attractive marketing in grocery stores.

In an effort to celebrate that new pyramid, here is a last look at the history of the USDA Food Pyramid:

  1. ...."We left off with the 'Food Wheel,' which was created in 1984 in cooperation between the USDA and the American National Red Cross.
  2. The USDA developed the Food Guide Pyramid with some explicit goals in mind. Since the Department of Agriculture spends about 60% of its budget on food assistance, it felt the obligation to teach proper diet and its relationship to good health to those at risk. The Dietary Guidelines were the guiding premise for the new visual. But the promotion of overall health and well-being was a prime concern. If the new guide was to be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines it would have to establish the principles of a diet for healthy Americans over two years of age that might improve and maintain overall health. The guide had to be understood by a wide range of audiences, especially children and low-income, low-literacy adults.
  3. To be useful to consumers, foods were grouped in ways that were familiar, either from other food guides or from common knowledge. For instance, though tomatoes are technically a fruit, most people call them a vegetable; so they were kept on the vegetable list. It's worth noting that food groups in the Food Guide Pyramid were arranged with foods of similar nutrient content. The foods in the milk group are meant to provide calcium primarily while the foods in the meat group are primarily supplying protein. (This grouping differs from other plans, like the Diabetic Food Exchanges, where some cheeses count as protein, or some starchy vegetables count as a bread exchange.)
  4. The USDA did not want to prohibit the selection of any particular food; they wanted the guide to accommodate all types of foods. It is what many dietitians espouse as the "no 'good' foods or 'bad' foods" concept. The USDA reasoned that any guide that rigidly forbids certain foods is not likely to be followed, so it's better to let consumers decide for themselves which foods they prefer as sources of fat and added sugars, instead of rigorously forbidding them.
  5. The food guide also had to account for needs that vary according to age, sex, and activity level. It was a tough challenge to create a guide that would allow varying individual nutritional needs to be met by different amounts of foods from the same groups or the same menus. That's why there are ranges in the number of servings from each food group. As an individual, you can determine how much of the various foods to eat based on your own age, activity level, and so forth.
  6. Once the basic goals were established, the actual development of the new food guide began, much of it based on research that took about three years to generate and document."
Here is an excerpt from an article that helps to summarize:

"The Dairy Council is lobbying for an increase in the daily recommendations for dairy products while the American Millers’ Association and the U.S. Potato Board are defending their economic interests against the low-carbohydrate craze. Similarly, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the Chocolate Manufacturer’s Association, the Snack Food Association, the California Walnut Board, the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, and many more are busily twisting arms and applying pressure for their members‘ financial advantage.

Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. met with USDA officials to propose an alternative “Atkins Lifestyle” pyramid. The Atkins web site urges dieters to contact the USDA telling it to reduce the recommended carbs in the new Dietary Guidelines. This, in spite of inadequate scientific research on the long-term health consequences of low carbohydrate consumption. Again, it’s self-interest and ideology ahead of science and the best interests of the American public.

....Perhaps the USDA should simply adopt the Harvard pyramid and leave politics to the politicians. Doing so would contribute to the health and longevity of the American public."

Though a little out of date, this book and this article have some important information for us.

-The Pyramid Cookbook, by Pat Baird


-Zamiska, Nicholas. Food-pyramid frenzy: Lobbyists fight to defend sugar, potatoes and bread in recommended U.S. diet. Wall Street Journal (Marketplace section), July 29, 2004, B1; Willett, Walter C., with the assistance of others. Eat, Drink, and be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

1 comment:

Hanlie said...

First of all, well done for completing a whole year without sugar! I love it when people do things that others say "can't be done".

This Food Pyramid series was very interesting. Commercial interests are very much protected when it comes to educating the public about food. We have to remember that the government heavily subsidizes the meat, dairy, egg and grain industries, which is why fast food is so cheap. No wonder we are obese and sick!