Who can forget to learn how to eat healthy from the food pyramid? The colorful triangular shape gave us dietary guidelines to follow for a long and healthy life.
The first food pyramid was created in Sweden in the 1970s. There were street protests against the high price of food and the government set up a committee to determine if a healthy meal could be prepared at an affordable price.
Dr. Luise Light was the nutrition expert who created the food guide pyramid that we all know. It was introduced to the public in 1992 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and consisted of six blocks, stacked from largest to smallest.
What is the food pyramid?
The food pyramid was a visual representation of food groups, presenting dietary advice on what people should eat for optimal health.
Foods at the base of the pyramid were refined grains such as rice, bread and pasta, and it was suggested that people consume 6-11 servings per day.
Next come fruit and vegetable servings at 2-4 servings and 3-5 servings, respectively.
Next, people were advised to eat 2-3 servings of dairy products, followed by 2-3 servings of protein such as red meat, eggs, beans and nuts.
Fats and oils were at the top of the pyramid, completing a supposedly balanced diet.
The food pyramid was based on the premise that people should get the best nutritional value possible at the lowest cost. Thus, the entire diet consisted of a huge amount of carbohydrates.
But with a better understanding of the effect of carbs on body weight and health, and the benefits of healthy fats, it seems the food industry has been following some misleading advice.
Is the food pyramid wrong?
We now know that fatty foods are not necessarily “bad” for you. In fact, foods labeled “low fat” are known to create more problems than they prevent.
Consumers thought they were doing the right thing by replacing high-fat foods with processed junk food marketed as low-fat.
These low-fat, fat-free, and reduced-fat products often contained additives such as sugar, salt, and chemical fillers, which were detrimental to our health. Some of the side effects were chronic disease, weight gain, and heart health risks.
Additionally, due to the misguided overconsumption of carbohydrates, many people began to develop type 2 diabetes. This happened because their body was either unable to produce enough insulin or unable to process the excess insulin it creates.
Dietitian Susan Bowerman pointed out that the “grain” group behind the was influenced by grain industry lobbyists.
Many believe consumers have been cheated by the food industry and big business.
The results of determining exactly what healthy eating looked like would not maximize profits for food companies, so this has been changed.
The recommended 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables have been reduced to 2-3.
Grain companies were behind the adjustment from 5 grain servings down to 11.
As for dairy products, there was no recommendation, but that too was added for the benefit of the dairy industry.
Companies tricked consumers into thinking carbohydrates were a separate food group from fruits and vegetables.
Luise Light, MS, who was part of the creation of the pyramid, agreed, stating, “The type of grains suggested by the pyramid was also an issue. The pyramid did not emphasize whole grains and, in some respects, encouraged the consumption of refined cereals.”
Another problem with the food pyramid was the lack of any guidance on serving sizes for each food group. People probably overestimated what a decent portion of food looked like and ate too much of it.
Apparently, the original food pyramid came with a booklet that explained how to correctly measure a serving size. Most people didn’t even know such a brochure existed.
Over the years, several studies, such as the Women’s Health Initiative and the Nurses’ Health Study, have found that overall fat consumption does not lead to coronary heart disease. Instead, it was the type of fat that was a contributing factor.
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The food pyramid has gone through several iterations since its inception. In the latest iteration, you can see daily exercise has been added as a base, while red meats and processed carbs are minimized.
Photo: EAT, DRINK AND BE HEALTHY by Walter C. Willett, MD via Wikimedia Commons
Vegetables are now independent of fruits and can be eaten in abundance. Whole grains and vegetable oils are specified relative to generalizations that previously existed.
Amazingly, the new pyramid even allows multi-vitamins and alcohol in moderation for those who can afford it.
The decision to make changes came from the recognition that the original pyramid had not led to a decrease in heart disease, obesity or diabetes.
In 2011, the USDA, with First Lady Michelle Obama at the helm, changed the dietary guidelines for the MyPlate model. The idea was to get people thinking about putting together a balanced and healthy plate at mealtime.
The good news is that despite all the things that have gone wrong, with a greater focus on incorporating fruits and vegetables, our diets are moving in the right direction.
NyRee Ausler is a writer from Seattle, Washington, and author of seven books. It covers lifestyle, entertainment and news, as well as workplace navigation and social issues.