You’ve seen it, you know it, and you may even use it. It’s as recognizable as Chef Boyardee®, the Keebler Elf® or Tony the Tiger®. It’s the food pyramid. Over the years this eating “guideline” has adorned food packaging, has been displayed on posters, printed in books, and even taught in schools. Despite the original food pyramids elevation from “guide” to “globally-recognized icon”, it is criticized for leading to improper and unhealthy eating habits and has therefore undergone a millennium “make-over”.
Introduced in 1992 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture the pictures and categories on the food pyramid proved the perfect visual tool to express suggestions about food variety and proportionality. The original pyramid includes daily serving suggestions such as: 6-11 servings of carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice and cereal), 2-3 servings of meat and suggests that fats, oils and sweets to be used sparingly. As knowledge of food and nutrition began to increase however, so did the criticisms of the food pyramid. Dr. Walter Willett, U.S nutrition researcher, criticizes the pyramid in his book, “Eat, Drink and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating ”. He points out that, “The thing to keep in mind about the USDA Pyramid is that it comes from the Department of Agriculture, the agency responsible for promoting American agriculture, not from agencies established to monitor and protect our health…” Willet even goes so far as to state, “At best, the USDA Pyramid offers indecisive, scientifically unfounded advice…at worst, the misinformation it offers contributes to overweight, poor health, and unnecessary early deaths.” While few others are so venomous in their critique, there are also few professionally trained nutritionists who continue to support the 1992 version of the Food Pyramid.
Meanwhile, the USDA did not allow nutritional updates to go unrequited. Beyond recognizing the more appropriate a type of foods within the different categories, the USDA has also taken into account that individual needs vary depending on factors such as age, race, gender and so on. These additional considerations lead the USDA to develop what is called, “My Pyramid” which can be found online at www.mypyramid.gov. This site leads users through a process to create their very own personalized pyramid which will more closely meet their needs, taking into account both their body type and lifestyle. The site leads individuals through a detailed assessment of their eating and exercise habits and then provides users individualized eating plans and activity choices.
Remember, no matter which version of the Food Pyramid you prefer as a general nutritional guideline, and despite any future updates, one practice recommended by them all that will always continue to serve your wellness efforts remains…regular exercise!