An ode to the food pyramid
We are the generation of people who have to be told what we should eat. Have you thought about that? Does a tribe in Africa need to be told what to eat? Do native Pacific Islanders wake up and think ‘Gee, I really don’t know- what should I be eating to keep healthy?”
Our ancestors knew through tribal wisdom which foods to hunt and gather, how to cook them and which foods were poisonous. Since we have ‘evolved’ to higher levels of civilisation, we’ve lost touch with where food comes from, how to grow it without chemicals, how to harvest it and how to cook it. Most importantly, we’ve completely lost touch with REAL food and have become a civilisation reliant on food ‘products’. In this sorry state, we no longer know through wise traditions about what is actually healthy for us to eat, so we rely on governments to provide ‘nutritional advice’.
Enter the Food Pyramid. We’ve been fed the ‘Food Pyramid’ for a long time, but not as long as you would think- the first pyramid came about in the US in 1992.
The good old food pyramid that gives us advice about what to eat is ubiquitous in every class room, dietetics textbook and every health institution. The food pyramid in the US has had many guises, and has been simplified throughout the years. Check out this link for a summary of the food pyramid’s many guises.
In Australia, 2013 saw the re-working of the food pyramid into a sort of a ‘plate’ with the different food classes broken down into recommended portions (see full document here). What do we find here? A ‘plate’ dominate by a huge section of processed grain based products: puffed rice cakes, brown coloured (‘wholemeal’) bread, cruskits and other highly processed, gluten-laden concoctions. We are advised to feed 4-7 serves of these per day to our kids, depending on age.
Then we have another section of the plate dominated by low fat dairy products. What is low fat dairy? Pasteurised, homogenised products with 99% of the fat removed. Why is there fat in dairy? So that the fat soluble vitamins that are in it can help the calcium get absorbed. Vitamin A, vitamin D and vital enzymes essential for absorption of dairy foods are completely removed in this type of processing. And the best part: any person over 2 years old is recommended to choose “reduced fat milks, yoghurts and cheeses or calcium- enriched alternatives”. Why? Because the government believes that anyone over 2 years old is at risk of heart disease due to consumption of TOO MUCH FAT!!!
You must be living under a rock if you haven’t seen the fat tide turn in the last year with a massive wave of consistent research from numerous experts, including top cardiologists confirming what real food enthusiasts have never ceased believing- fat does not make you fat!! It’s time the government caught up with this and changed the recommendations that continue to advise the population to stick to low fat products. The catastrophic obesity epidemic and the rise of type 2 diabetes across all population groups, including children is a testament to the complete failure of the low fat pyramid/plate.
The fats are not even on the plate!! They are in a tiny section at the bottom left hand corner, represented by a tub of processed trans-fat laden margarine and suspicious looking bottles of vegetable oils. Not a butter pack in sight! It is now a well established fact that the very same polyunsaturated vegetable oils (soy, canola, safflower, etc) that have been promoted by various heart foundations as the ‘healthy choices’ are the most dangerous kinds of oils to consume as they are destroyed and made toxic by processing. You can read more about fats in great detail here.
The food plate does get a few things right: the meat and fish and the fruit and veg. You would be very worried if these didn’t make an appearance on the plate!
The most fascinating thing happened to me last weekend. Whilst on holidays with my family I came across an old nutrition textbook in a hotel library. It was from 1963! Called “Nutrition in Health and Disease” by Cooper et al, it was THE nutrition textbook of the times. And the next best thing about it was the previous version of a dietary health guide (before the food pyramid!) that is attached here:
How simple! “Same milk for everyone”. Fruit. Vegetables. Meat. Fish. Whole grain bread (this last one contains ‘enriched’ or ‘restored’ which mean little and signify the beginnings of the ‘food products’ made from cereals). Still no site of fats, but apparently these were added in later as “fats, oils and sweets” to the four basic food groups and cautioned moderation.
I found this throw-back to the 1960s fascinating as it showed just how much more processed our eating has become.
Key message: if we turn back the clock to what our great-grandparents were eating – real food: from animals and plants, we will also turn back the clock on numerous chronic diseases that have been the result of the food pyramids and the processed food giants these pyramids support. Let’s go back to True Foods! And if you need a guide for that, here is my version!