The Weekly Check-Up Atlanta

Lost in the Ruins of the Food Pyramid, Part II

This is the second of two parts about the USDA’s attempt to guide the American diet and the famous, but now defunct grap

Lost in the Ruins

In 2005, the USDA revamped the food pyramid, trying to emphasize portion control, healthy carbohydrates, healthy fat and exercise. In the process of all of the changes, it was no longer easy to understand.

The thickness of the vertical stripes were supposed to represent how much of each food group one should eat. The graphic made no intuitive sense, there was no clear servings per day. The person climbing the side was supposed to represent exercise but he was more of a distraction that added to the confusion. While the web site and literature that accompanied the new pyramid were full of useful dietary guidelines based on good research, they were complicated and hard to understand. The simple graphic made little to no sense, so Children and people with lower levels of education and income could not gain anything from these guidelines, and they are the two groups of people most affected by obesity and most need these resources. This pyramid was almost immediately criticized and lasted for 5 short years. After such a failure, the idea of a food pyramid was abandoned. The USDA dietary guidelines are now represented by a plate schematic showing how much of your plate should be filled with a particular food group.

Have we found out way out of the Ruins?

This new design may be the best yet, but it still leaves something to be desired. There is so much information about what foods are healthy and which are not, but the information is often unclear and conflicting. Foods marketed as healthy are often low calorie junk food. Not all foods within each food group are the same, and too much food – regardless of how healthy – is not good for you.
Having a healthy diet in modern times is complex. It may be impossible to have a simple graphic explain it all. Education about what foods are healthy may be the best first step. There is lots of good information on the Harvard School of Public Health and web sites for personal education. Despite all of the iterations of dietary guidelines, the message no refined sugar, no refined grains and no more processed food is key to eating in a healthy way. Schools should teach nutrition and cooking classes from an early age to understand what our bodies do with the food we eat and understand why some foods are healthy. Giving kids the skills they need to prepare healthy foods allows them to feel empowered to control their diet and prevent obesity. We have been stuck in the ruins of the food pyramid for some time now. We have an idea of the way out, but it will be a long path. I hope we can find the effort it takes to get ourselves out of these ruins, and into the sunshine.

Be well,
Dr. Bruce Feinberg