According to Marion Nestle, from 1958 until 1992, the USDA’s food guide was a rectangle illustrating four food groups: dairy, meat, fruits and vegetables, and grains. In 1992, , the USDA released its highly controversial Food Guide Pyramid. It was controversial because the food industry objected that the Pyramid made it look as if you were supposed to eat more foods from the bottom of the pyramid than from the top (which, of course, was its point). Nutritionists, she explained, objected that it encouraged eating too many servings of grains and, therefore, encouraged obesity. In 2005, the USDA replaced it with the MyPyramid. The food industry liked this one because it did not indicate hierarchies in food choices.
In June, the USDA unveiled My Plate. The pyramid was replaced with a graphical representation of a plate divided into four colored sections, for fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein. Beside the plate is a smaller circle for dairy. direct challenge to the USDA’s My Plate, Harvard released their Healthy Eating Plate in September. “We gave MyPlate a makeover to provide consumers with an easy to use but specific guide to healthy eating based on the best science available,” says Dr. Anthony Komaroff, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Editor in Chief of Harvard Health Publications.
The Healthy Eating Plate recommends:
- Make half your meal vegetables and fruits. Go for variety. And keep in mind that potatoes and french fries don’t count.
- Choose whole grains whenever you can. Limit refined grains, like white rice and white bread, because the body rapidly turns them into blood sugar.
- Pick the healthiest sources of protein, such as fish, poultry, beans, and nuts; cut back on red meat; avoid bacon, cold cuts, and other processed meats.
- Healthy oils (like olive and canola oil) are good for you. Don’t be afraid to use them for cooking, on salad, and at the table.
- Drink water, tea, or coffee. Milk and dairy are not must-have foods—limit them to 1-2 servings/day. Go easy on juice. Avoid sugary drinks.
- And stay active!
According to P.J. Skerrett, Editor of the Harvard Heart Letter, MyPlate was modified because it offered little—or inaccurate—advice.
“It says nothing about the quality of carbohydrates (grains). White bread and white rice raises blood sugar in a flash—whole grains are better for long-term health. It makes no distinction between healthy sources of protein such as beans, fish, and poultry, and less healthy sources, such as red and processed meat.
In addition, MyPlate recommends milk or dairy at every meal, even though there is little evidence that high dairy intake protects against osteoporosis and substantial evidence that consuming a lot of milk and dairy foods can be harmful. It says nothing about healthy oils, which are good for the heart, arteries, and the rest of the body. And it is shockingly silent on sugary drinks, which provide far too many empty calories.”
So, what I am wondering is this: how many people choose what to eat based on the USDA food guides? Whether it is a box, a pyramid or a plate, do you change your food choices based on the recommendations of the USDA or do you perform your own research? If the USDA Food Pyramid was changed to this: Would you make different choices? Michael Pollan published a book of “Food Rules” to help people make better decisions about food. They include such sage advice as:
- Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food
- Avoid foods that have some form of sugar or sweetener listed among the top three ingredients
- Stop eating before you’re full and try to eat only to 67 to 80 per cent capacity
- Don’t get your “fuel” from the same place your car does
- Do all your eating at a table, not at a desk, while working, watching television or driving
- Eat food cooked by humans, not corporations
- Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk
- Wherever possible buy fresh food at farmers’ markets
Are these rules a better gauge of what is healthy? What do you think? What are we to eat?