The Food Pyramid

In response to a growing need, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) established food guidelines over fifty years ago regarding labeling and daily recommendations. Unfortunatley, the USDA’s concern, is for the businesses of agriculture not the health of consumers. So it should be to no ones surprise that their recommendations served those interests.

Their original design displayed a plate divided into four quarters. This Basic Four conveyed the misconception that meat and dairy products should makeup half of a healthy diet, while grains, fruits and vegetables should make up the other half. Once it was determined that eating food in these proportions was making people sick, this scam was replaced. But only over the objection of the meat and dairy industries whose interests were hurt by this revelation

The plate was replaced with a pyramid, created by Porter Novelli in 1992. It was meant to be an instructional tool on the proper, relative amounts of food to eat. The food pyramid was then printed on packaged cereals, and breads and posted on school billboards across America. This original Food Pyramid was a graphical representation of what Porter Novelli perceived as a healthy diet, one that emphasized a diet built on a base of carbohydrates.

Since their knowledge and understanding of food was limited, their large base did not distinguish between grains, vegetables, or fruits, they could never succeed.  All carbohydrates were equally considered as carbohydrates with no distinction as to their effect on health. Moving up the pyramid and away from the carbohydrate base, were dairy products, meat, sweets and finally oils, which were graphically represented in progressively lesser amounts.

This pyramid was a graphical accounting of the emphasis consumers should place on the type of foods they eat. The carbohydrate base was widest because it was the nutrient neeeded the most. Foods near the pyramid’s apex, the least consumed nutrient was needed the least.

The USDA thus advised eating many servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta and two to three servings of meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts and reducing fats and oils. Needless to say, this attempt on improving health by instructing American on the proper food to eat was a failure. First it grouped all carbohydrates as equals and secondly it clumped together all oils as harmful. This representation was not only simplistic it was downright dangerous.  

It failed to distinguish between whole grains and refined, it failed to consider the phytochemicals in colorful carbohydrates or omega-3 fatty acids. In short, it was little better than the Basic 4 script. In fact, the number of Americans who have become fat since its introduction has steadily increased, which prompted its review.

My Pyramid

In April of 2005 the USDA unveiled a new pyramid to replace the original food pyramid. Its development was spearheaded once again by Porter Novelli, now a full fledged public relations firm specializing in social media and whose clients include major food companies. These new guidelines were crafted out of the United States Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which was developed by a panel of doctors and scientists at a cost of $2.4 million.

The new representation could never possibly convey all the information outlined in the guidelines nor satisfy all of the advocates of the many interest groups affected. There was pressure from vegetarians, from Atkins, South Beach and anti-Glutin advocates, grain interests, ranchers, potato growers and farmers. In addition, many doctors and scientists whose interests are the health of patients have also weighed in on these discussions. Did this affect the ultimate design?  Yes.

The new scheme derived from those guidelines now emphasized good carbohydrates over bad ones, (bread made from whole-grain flour versus that made from refined white flour). More importantly, it also provided a healthy icon climbing steep steps of a pyramid, which is meant to reflect the new awareness of the importance of exercise. Daily exercise is now recommended for 30 minutes a day.

In all, there were 23 general recommendations and 18 suggestions for special populations like children and the elderly.

The USDA and Porter Novelli abandoned their one diet fits all mentality and introduced a system of a dozen different guides, each geared to individual nutritional needs and lifestyles. The dynamics of any individual approach was meant to be integrated at their web site mypyramid.org.

 

The new design is called MyPyramid. It is a food guidance system that describes food intake patterns.  It identifies what and how much food a given individual should eat. These amounts are based on the age, sex, and activity level of the individual.

MyPyramid represents a giant step forward in accepting the uniqueness of an individual and the difficulty in assigning absolute values in determining how much they should eat.

MyPyramid stresses the individuality of the diet and emphasizes the need for regular exercise to be a part of one. It reverses the trend from a more protein and fatter diet, which Americans typically eat, towards one of more colorful fruits and vegetables.

While the original triangle-shaped pyramid only had horizontal presentations of food clumped into groups, the redesigned one is much more realistic and unfortunately more complicated and therefore more difficult to understand.

 

The new graphic is a three-dimensional pyramid, which uses rainbow-colored vertical bands to represent the different food groups. The foods are grouped into 6, slightly, widening colorful bands that run from the apex of the pyramid to its base. The side of the pyramid has an animated figure climbing the steep steps reflecting the need for exercise.

The bands, in descending width indicating less consumption are: brown (grains), greens (vegetables), red (fruit), yellow (oils) blue (milk) and purple (meats and beans).

This diet stresses activity, moderation and variety.

 

 


 

The nutrition information that the FDA requires are arbitrary reference points. It reflects a nutrient’s relative significance in the context of a total daily diet. The idea of mandating that manufacturers list this information is one of the major accomplishments of government.

Having said that, there can be no better way to demonstrate how ill conceived and confusing the government is in carrying out that mandate than to describe what standards food manufacturers must follow and consumers must read to understand the FDA’s labeling requirements.

 

The Recommended Dietary Allowances were developed during World War II by the US Academy of Sciences. It is a set of standards, established during a time of food rationing, for nine nutrients deemed essential to health.

In 1973 the FDA used these amounts to establish its own RDA, or Recommended Daily Allowances, which frequently have been revised and expanded.  Due to confusion, its name was changed and these values are now known as Reference Daily Intake (RDI).

The RDI is the daily amount of a nutrient considered adequate to meet the requirements of healthy individuals of all age and gender groups. The RDI is used to determine the Recommended Daily Value (RDV) which reflects the recommended requirements of most vitamins and minerals.

The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) is the most recent incarnation of these recommendations and represent the estimated amounts needed for twenty-seven vitamins and minerals by healthy men, women or children.

The Upper Limit (UL) on the other hand, represents the highest amount of a particular nutrient considered to be safe for use by adults. In some cases Lower ULs have been established for children.

The FDA requires that nutrition labels of foods carry the Recommended Daily Value (RDVs) or just Daily Value (DV) that they have established as healthy for men or women. RDVs are usually higher in men except for women who are pregnant or lactating. .

The FDA requires that labels carry the percent of the Daily Value for each nutrient that a serving of the food contains. Thus a label must reveal the contribution that their food provides towards meeting that value for each nutrient contained in the food.

 

DRV for the energy nutrients (fat, carbohydrate, and protein) are based on either a 2000 or a 2500 calorie day. The DV measures how much a particular food contains of a specific nutrient and how that amount contributes to the total energy amount in the diet.

Daily Reference Values for cholesterol, sodium and potassium are set regardless of calorie level.

 

While these labels do provide more information for consumers, The values established by the FDA in the form of RDVs are arbitrary and assumes a constant level of non-energy type nutrients (vitamins and minerals).  Furthermore, these amounts are identical for not only 2000 and 2500-calorie diets but also for the 3000 or 4000 calorie burning athlete. Does that make sense?

An athlete’s daily dietary need for the energy-producing nutrients (fat, carbohydrate, protein, and fiber) are based on the number of calories they expended in the course of their day. The more intense they exercise, the higher their caloric need.

Athletes who burn in excess of 3000 calories a day need more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, and a host of phytocompounds not even mentioned.

 

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