The United States Department of Agriculture has issued a new food pyramid, updating the last one which stood for years. I know that many food advocacy groups such as the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine have worked for years to influence the USDA to encourage a more plant-based diet in their new food guide pyramid. To some extent, I think their hard work paid off.
The USDA's new food pyramid makes some huge strides over the previous food pyramid. For instance, it now encourages daily exercise, which most of us know is an important component in overall health. It also gives more specific guidelines as to daily amounts of each category of food, as well as serving size and the different requirements for children.
Now, on to the parts where I think they could have used some help. I’ll just go through each section of the pyramid.
In the grains category, the new food pyramid suggests that “half of all grains should be whole.” Clearly, there is no nutritional need for “unwhole” grains in anyone’s diet. It would have been better for them to put “at least half of all grains should be whole,” and it would have been glorious for them to suggest that all grains should be whole. I am suspicious that this caveat is there because a proponent of white breads convinced the USDA that their business would be badly damaged if the new food pyramid suggested that anything less than whole is worthless for our bodies.
I think it’s great that the vegetables category encourages us to vary the types of vegetables we ingest. Again, I would have liked to see an “at least” put in front of the 2.5 cups required daily. In the fruits category, it’s great that they remind us to “go easy on juices.” However, I think this will be confusing to some. It would have been better had they said, “2 cups whole fruit.”
I like the sliver of oil that indicates the oil category, and I think that the recommendations about limiting solid fats are good. However, a big thing missing from this category is the mention of cholesterol. Eliminating cholesterol is a much bigger deal for your overall health than any of their other recommendations. I do appreciate that this category also mentions that we should “choose foods low in added sugar,” as many people get confused about the naturally occurring sugars in fruits and think they should avoid them.
The last two categories (milk, meat, and beans) of the new food pyramid are the ones I will take the most issue with, of course.
In the milk category, it says to “eat low-fat or fat-free dairy products.” I find this incredibly deceptive. Even low-fat and fat-free dairy products are still chock full of cholesterol, and the percentage of calories from fat.
About 75% of humans show signs of lactose intolerance, as the human body is simply not designed for ingestion of non-human milk. Milk is intended to help a baby receive nutrients until they are weaned and able to eat solid food. No other species of mammal drinks the milk of another species, and most don’t drink it past infancy.
What this milk category is really trying to get across is the need for calcium in our diets. In fact, on their site, the USDA says, “if you don’t or can’t consume milk, chose lactose-free products or other calcium sources.” Eventually we will see the day where this category is removed, but for now we can settle on the fact that the FDA realizes it is not necessary to drink actual milk to get calcium.
Perhaps in the next new food pyramid this should be replaced with another column of vegetables, but this time it would be dark, leafy greens. Instead of three cups of milk, three cups of kale, collard greens, broccoli, etc is pretty important to your daily diet. Rather than leaching the calcium out of your body like the milk protein casein, these dark, leafy greens are easy to digest and full of amazing nutrients.
The last category is called meat and beans, and the suggestion is to “eat lean cuts, seafood, and beans. Avoid frying.” While I think this is helpful, I think it should simply be a beans category. There is no nutritional benefit to meat in the diet, and numerous studies show that meat consumption is extremely harmful to our health.
When you read through the lines of what mypyramid.org is saying, you can see that the USDA understands that a plant-based diet is most healthful. For instance, on the tips and techniques page, it gives this list:
That sounds exactly like they are recommending a vegan diet! However, they are not at the point of telling us that yet.
I have read that the government and health organizations will not recommend plant-based diets simply because they think we humans will not follow through with them. I think they are expecting too little out of us. I believe humans can make big changes, and they should give us some credit. If more people are educated as to the truth about food, more and more people will start making the right decisions.