Monday, March 2, 2009

Food Pyramid Facts: Part Two

Did you know that for over a hundred years the USDA has given Americans advice about what to eat?
  1. "The USDA issued the first tables of food composition and dietary standards for the United States' population in 1894. They represented what was believed to be the average protein and calorie needs of man. Specifications were not given for vitamins and minerals, since these needs were unknown.
  2. A few years later W.O. Atwater, a pioneer nutrition investigator with the USDA, expressed concern in a Farmers Bulletin about obesity and the "evils of overeating." He emphasized the same themes of variety, balance and moderation that are important to us today.
  3. The first Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) from the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) listed specific recommendations for calories and nine essential nutrients--protein, iron, calcium, vitamins A and D, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C)--at a time when this country was at the brink of war and coping with rationing.
  4. In 1946, the USDA illustrated its food guide with a segmented circle that identified the basic seven food groups.
  5. In the years following the war, the "Basic Seven" was revised and a new publication was issued: the National Food Guide. Later, in 1956, yet another new food guide, describing the "Basic Four"--was released as a booklet called Food for Fitness--A Daily Food Guide.
  6. When the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs issued the Dietary Goals for the United States in 1977, a new direction was taken. This time the committee set quantitative goals for intakes of protein, carbohydrates, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, sugars, and sodium. There were some basic disagreements, however, regarding the usual food patterns in the country. The 1977 guidelines, therefore, were not adopted by the USDA as a foundation for new food plans and food guides. In 1979, the USDA published The Hassle-Free Guide to a Better Diet in a colorful booklet called Food. The focal point of the guide was the addition of a fifth food group--fat, sugars, and alcohol--and the need to control the intake of these foods, which contribute mostly calories but few other nutrients. The guide also gave distinctive attention to calories and dietary fiber.
  7. Though there was strong interest in health and nutrition in the late 1970's, The Hassle-Free Guide went unnoticed by a good many people. In 1980, the first edition of Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans was issued by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). These guidelines were meant for healthy Americans, not for individuals with medical problems or who required special diets.
  8. In 1984, the USDA, in cooperation with the American National Red Cross, developed the "Food Wheel" as part of a consumer nutrition education course. The Food Wheel emphasized the importance of eating different amounts of food from each of the food groups. Later, in 1988, when participants in focus groups were asked to comment on the Food Wheel, they perceived it as unimaginative and old-fashioned or as providing information they already knew. Even many professionals were still under the impression that the USDA was still using the "Basic Four." Many of them didn't feel that the Food Wheel clearly addressed nutritional concerns like the intake of too much food or the connections between diet and health. A new graphic to illustrate those messages was definitely in order."
To Be Continued....

-source: The Pyramid Cookbook, by Pat Baird
(This book was published in 1993, one year after the USDA released the "Food Guide Pyramid". The book is dated, but contains important historical information about how/when food guides came about.)


beckiwithani said...

Interesting stuff here.

I put the new Harvard pyramid (which you blogged about last week) on my own blog and sent it to the health teachers at the school where I teach. One of the teachers mentioned something interesting - the picture of corn oil as a "healthy fat" in the new pyramid. Corn oil, according to studies, is not one of the really healthy fats. But the USDA consistently says it is.

Why would they do this? Do a little research on the corn lobby and a scary picture comes together...

[In spite of all of this, though, I do think that the new pyramid is, by far, the best I've seen. I cheered when I saw it!]

My Year Without said...


I have to apologize for an incorrect pyramid on that last post. For some reason I thought I had the correct pyramid, but I did not. Sorry for the inconvenience. I posted the correct version today.

Please pass this along to all who viewed the previous version. It was incorrect and confusing. I am sorry about that.

This correct version of Harvard's Food Pyramid is wonderful. I think you and your colleagues will agree!