Four servings of vegetables, three of fruit, a whole load of starch for some reason… This is the food pyramid. It may be complete nonsense. If you’ve ever had the urge to lose trust in the government, the food pyramid might be a good place to start.
Back in 1894, the USDA released the first United States government endorsed diet when, at the time, science knew very little about what a healthy diet was. The USDA’s recommendations were little more than guesswork and go to show that the government does not always incorporate scientific information when making declarations. In the 1940’s, with its citizens dealing with the rationing of foods for the war, the United States started to push the “Basic 7,” telling everyone that, in order to stay healthy, they had to eat a little from each of the seven groups. This idea eventually was simplified to the “Basic 4,” with groups consisting of fruits and veggies, dairy, meat and protein, grain, and a fifth miscellaneous group.
Finally, in 1992 we were introduced to the food pyramid. The food pyramid was the first of the USDA’s recommended diets that focused on wheat and grain as the foundation for a healthy diet, advising the public to 6-11 servings per day. This diet, created nearly 100 years after the first also comes after an extra 100 years of research on what a healthy diet truly is. Regardless, the food pyramid may be no more valid than the guesswork of 1894. There are many examples healthy diets that blatantly ignore the food pyramid, like the Inuits whose diets once consisted of far more fat and protein than any pyramid will tell you to eat due to the lack of vegetation growing in their environment. The Inuits were not exactly unhealthy with this diet either. In fact, a study between 1950 and 1974 found that the diabetes rate amongst Greenland’s Inuits was 0.00056%. That number would rise to 9.7% in a study from 1991 to 2001, though this rise is thought to be associated with the westernization of the diet which incorporated much more wheat and grain. How can a diet so different from the food pyramid churn out healthy humans for so many years?
Some studies, like this one published by Nutrition & Metabolism in 2007, show that diets low in carbohydrates and high in fats and proteins lead to improved cholesterol levels. That study tells us,
“In spite of orthodox concerns about the impact of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat, no significant deleterious changes were observed to result from adherence to either the [red meat] or [poultry, fish, and shellfish] diets, which were both high in total cholesterol and total fat.”
This study gives me pause, especially with the fact that they did not use a control group, but the fact that the incorporations of the diets did no harm to the dieters gives me pause with the validity of the food pyramid as well.
Many new food pyramids have begun to surface as research has continued. This one from New York Times best-selling author Dr. Joel Fuhrman recommends massive amounts of nutritious vegetables, both raw and cooked, with every other food group taking a diminished role including red meats, which fill the smallest portion of the pyramid. This dietary recommendation in the shape of a plate from the Harvard School of Public Health gives high importance to vegetables as well, but makes a point to relegate fats to small portions. Yet another pyramid, this one from award-winning scientific journalist Dr. Joseph Mercola, stays focused on vegetables but invests much more of the space to proteins and fats.
With such an abundance of differing opinions, its no wonder why the diet industry has become so prevalent in our world. As of right now, there is a lot of conflicting evidence that makes it impossible to say what diet is necessarily correct, but you should know that the USDA’s food pyramid is no better of an estimator of what you should eat than any other source. My opinion? I would probably place my bets on whatever people eat in Japan, considering Japan has the highest rate of 100 year olds per 100,000 people than any other country. But really, mental health is just as important as dietary health, and I think I would lose my mind if i was only allowed to eat seafood and veggies. A more palatable option? I could see myself following the paleo diet. Also know as “The Caveman Diet,” if you want a diet that is natural then this is the one for you! I wonder, sometimes, if a natural diet is necessarily the best diet. That would mean that, after all this time and all of the advances humans have made, we still would just be better off eating what we ate back in the Stone Age? I can’t believe that.
It’s funny how putting food categories into a pyramid makes it seem like us humans have it all figured out. In reality, we only have a shadow of an idea of the truth. Regardless, we will keep eating and eating until we figure it out.