The original food guide pyramid has been with us since the USDA released it in the 1960s as a response to the nation’s growing problem with heart disease. It’s hard to find too many people who haven’t at least seen the pyramid, even if they aren’t really sure what it says. The food pyramid that was released in 1991, and others before it had been subject to plenty of criticism , not the least of which was that they actually contributed to making a generation of Americans fat.
The food pyramid makes Americans fatter? Surely that couldn’t be true. After all, wasn’t it developed as an easy way to communicate basic healthy nutritional requirements in an effort to avoid obesity and it’s associated problems? The criticisms of the old food pyramid stem from the now well held belief that while too many saturated fats can indeed be bad for the old ticker, it is really a diet rich on simple carbohydrates that is making Americans known as “Fat Nation”.
The old food pyramid recommended that the majority of one’s diet consist of bread, grains, and cereals. Did the growers lobby have a bit too much influence on the pyramid’s construction, or was the prevailing nutrition theory at the time to blame? What ever the cause, we have since learned that some fats are indeed essential for a healthy diet, and can actually help you keep your body fat level low.
The old food pyramid actually went so far as to recommend that fats and oils be “used sparingly”. Had they not been listening to decades of qualified research that was demonstrating the value of such healthy fats as Omega-3s? Their recommendations led to a generation of Americans downing such fare as non-fat cookies and breakfast danish pastries, and believing they were actually existing on a healthy diet. Apparently the effects of too much sugar were completely lost on these folks.
I should know, I was one of them. For about 5 years in the mid ’80’s I worked out like a fiend, while completely buying into the low fat diet trends that were so prevalent at the time. Fortunately I was in my late teens and early twenties, so carbohydrates of a carbonated variety probably had more effect on my body composition that did a few pastries and cookies.
The problem was that far too many people bought into the theory that fat was bad, and they could eat just about whatever they wanted, as long as it was low or non fat. The upshot of all this was that they continued to shove these low fat junk foods into their mouths, while completely ignoring the fact that their waste lines were expanding.
The new food guide pyramid aims to address all the problems with the 1991 and previous versions. While the boys at the Grain Growers Association may not be too happy with the new one, everyone else should be much happier. What are the changes top the new one, and can they help you lose fat and keep it off? Well, the only way to lose fat and keep it off is to use more calories than you take in, but this new USDA guideline is a huge step above the previous iterations.
What are the changes wrought by the folks at the USDA for the new pyramid? First of all it recognizes that there should be differences in caloric intake based on a number of factors, including age, sex (which you are, not how much you have), and activity level. That is a big step up.
Another improvement in new vs. old is that they recognize that some fats are essential, although some people (myself included) would argue that they don’t pay enough attention to the essential fatty acids in the Omega-3 group. They do however recommend that your fats should be supplied by eating fish, nits and vegetable oils. They should actually include the Omega-3 recommendation, so that other rich sources of such fats, like flax seed, would be included in the chart. For now however, we’ll take what we can get. They do indicate that consumption of saturated fats, solid fats, and trans fats should be kept low. Now however, the latest research shows that trans fats should be eliminated entirely.
They have improved the new pyramid with respect to fruit as well, by noting that you should eat a variety of fruits, but limit your intake of juice. That is good,a s juices don’t have much of the fiber ant other nutrients present in whole fruits.
They have cut way back on their recommended amount of grains, while noting that at least half of all grains consumed be whole grains. I would argue that they didn’t go far enough with that one. Grains should be cut back a bit more, and virtually all of the grains you eat should be whole.
A change from the old to the new touches vegetables as well. Proportionately they recommend more, which is great. They show that you should eat varied types of vegetables. Where they miss the mark with the new pyramid though, is by failing to mention that some vegetables, especially green ones, should actually comprise the majority of your vegetable intake. They should note certain vegetables, such as broccoli, peppers, peas, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and leafy greens (iceberg lettuce doesn’t apply here) are full of high value nutrients, while being fairly low in calories.
Where did they miss the boat completely with the new food pyramid guide?
1 – They didn’t talk about antioxidants, such as found in berries, tomatoes, and green tea. Antioxidants are being proven by the latest research to be adept cancer fighters and great at healing and preventing all manner of bodily harm. Maybe they can include an antioxidant index in the next iteration of the pyramid.
2 – They didn’t address and make recommendations for glycemic index of carbohydrates, although it’s been shown that eating low glycemic index carbs have been shown to be beneficial as opposed to consuming higher index ones. Part of the rise in diabetes and obesity is thought to be caused by eating more high index carbohydrates, such as white flour and refined sugar. They do recommend that some high index foods be limited, but they don’t specifically address the subject of carbohydrate index, or that it is the reason some of the foods should be limited.
All in all the new food pyramid guide is light years ahead of the old one. The USDA has made some great revisions to the latest guide and hopefully they’ll incorporate the latest research into the next revision.
Can it help you lose fat? Yes, although there is no substitute for watching how many calories you take in and high intensity exercise. At least following the recommendations of the new pyramid won’t actually help make you fatter, as could be argued for the old one.
Have a great weekend, and Go Cougs!