Does the USDA food pyramid provide for a balanced diet or a healing diet?
'There's lots of people in this world who spend so much time watching their health that they haven't the time to enjoy it. ~ Josh Billings
In school, often at the elementary level, we learned about the food pyramid (See photo below). You know, the one the school system used that is the US government-backed system for a ‘healthy’ diet. Lots of grains, breads and cereals (calorie-dense carbohydrates) on the bottom level, more than 6 servings a day, with fruits and vegetables next, 5-9 servings a day, followed by milk and milk products, 2-3 servings a day, then meat and protein at 2-3 servings a day. Fats, oils and sweets were at the top to be eaten sparingly.
As an adult, I never paid attention to the government's recommendations, because it never made sense to me, eating that much, especially the amount of carbohydrates. I would always try to eat many fruits and vegetables, because I always knew that that was where the vitamins and minerals were. I was lucky and was taught to eat fresh fruits and veggies. My parents grew a large garden, out of necessity for my large family.
When I grew older, and started to learn
about politics and lobbying, I soon came to realize that the food
promoted by the government was often a product of the lobbyists, and
their strength. I learned that the food pyramid was simply a political
tool from the farm lobbyists trying to get you to eat what they wanted
to sell to you. And it still is a powerful lobby indeed.
The food pyramid had nothing to do with healthy eating, healthy weight loss or weight maintenance. If you ate as many calorie-dense, processed carbohydrates as the government said, you would be eating more carbohydrates than you should for health and weight control. You would have a hard time getting the more nutritional fruits and vegetables as well.
Both obesity and dental caries are associated with the introduction of grains into the diet, many centuries ago. I have also learned that corn and wheat, the predominant grains in our diet are significant carriers of mold and fungi, including Candida. These molds may create illness in our bodies, especially of the autoimmune type.
Bread and grains are also associated with addictive behaviors (sorry bread and cereal lovers)! Most foods made with grains are ones that you want to eat more and more of. Maybe I am showing my age, but remember the Lays Potato chips jingle – 'Nobody can eat just one?' This is true of all food made with grains, the more processed and devoid of nutrients, the more addictive. Just try eating one chip, one cracker, one cookie… and on and on. Carbs are addictive. Fact. Body builders have long known that to reduce body fact, you have to cut out the carbs.
Over the course of my lifetime, I have tried many diets, as most people have. Most of them worked, as long as I ate less. (This truly, was the key and IS the key to all diet success: eating less but still maintaining healthy weight loss.) The one diet that worked the least for me was the ever-popular low fat, low protein, and high carbohydrate diet of the 80’s to mid-90’s. All things with fat were the enemy – and meat was guilty by association. I did everything humanly possible to cut out all sources of fat, and still watched the scales go up. The lack of a balanced diet took its toll.
Then the pendulum swung in the totally opposite direction, somewhere in the 90’s and carbohydrates became the enemy. And they still are, to some extent. But, the very high protein diets, regardless of the fat content that were popular then did not give you a balanced diet either.
When it comes to a healthy diet and healthy weight loss, the key to healing of the body-mind-soul, I believe is two-fold:
So what is a balanced diet? How can I eat less?
The US government’s new and improved food selection guide, that has recently been published, called Choose My Plate has made a great attempt to rearrange their recommendations. This was long overdue, as the old food pyramid was outdated and had been taking a pounding by the nutrition experts. You can read all about the Choose My Plate recommendations. It is much more individualized to a person's age, sex and activity levels which is a drastic improvement from anything done previously.
Prior to the Choose My Plate recommendations, the government had a new food pyramid, called the "My Pyramid" as a transitional step from the old food pyramid from the picture above. This new recommendation, was a new and improved food pyramid that showed the pyramid sections vertical, essentially making all food groups equally important. This was getting closer to a balanced diet, yet was still fraught with issues.
I was very surprised to see how quickly the government transitioned to the Choose My Plate concept. I first wrote about the My Pyramid, food pyramid in 2010, and had to revise this article, to reflect the new recommendations to the Choose My Plate concept. The new and improved "My Pyramid" must have continued to receive criticism for the government to have changed it so fast!
In the Choose My Plate recommendation, read the information under each section and you will see that it certainly contains some good advice for a healthy diet. Despite the change recently from the My Pyramid to the Choose My Plate model, the new recommendations are still fraught with some issues, in my own opinion and personal experience.
They still make a recommendation to get half of your grains in whole grains, which allows half of your grains in your diet to remain processed. They get around this by stating that you make sure the processed grains are enriched. That means adding back the nutrients in synthetic form that the processing took out. Not good. I believe all the grains should be whole grains. You should strive to make this change in your diet whenever possible, and anything processed should be kept to a minimum. This includes foods containing white sugar and white flour.
The Choose My Plate recommendation still continues to commit to at least 3 oz of whole grain bread, cereal or crackers/day, with allowable portions somewhat higher, depending on the age, sex and activity of the individual. Sounds like a compromise with the grain lobby and a good step in the right direction, don't you think?
I don’t think the new food pyramid gives enough information on legumes, and very little on nuts and seeds. These are sorely lacking in most American diets and round out the nutrition in a balanced diet tremendously. They are also a good source of plant protein.
The US government’s new food recommendation wants you to add more fruits and vegetables to a healthy diet, which is a good move.
I like the University of Michigan Integrative Medine's Healing Foods Pyramid, see photo below. This healing food pyramid makes an honest effort to teach you how to balance your diet for healing, instead of it being just a source for energy. A healing diet is a balanced diet, and this food pyramid shows it the best. As a result of this, they include water, as the most necessary ingredient for life, at the bottom of their food pyramid. Now there’s a better concept.
I encourage you to study this food pyramid if you need to learn about a balanced diet to heal your body-mind-soul.
Fruits and vegetables make up the bulk of the diet at the bottom. They also leave room at the top for a ‘personal space,’ a place where you can add ‘healing foods’ of your own, using your own intuition for what is right for you. (I love this concept of health, as the reader now knows. This website understands the importance of individual wisdom!) This space is where the special foods would go that you couldn’t live without, i.e. your ‘comfort foods.’ Comfort foods can always be included in small portions at the top of every person’s pyramid, because of the emotional reasons we need them. For me, it is ice cream. I will never go without it. Our comfort foods are those foods that would make us feel deprived if we could not have them. They are the foods that we use to love ourselves. This self-love is very important (See Self-Love).
Vegans can also use this food pyramid successfully because it adds an entire section on legumes, a great source of plant-based proteins, a very important difference from the government’s food pyramid. I also love their grains section. They include the high-glycemic index or 'starchy' vegetables like corn, peas and potatoes in the whole grains group. This is an important difference, because most people don’t understand the difference between vegetables that have a high-glycemic index and those that do not. They think they are eating ‘vegetables’ when they load up on corn, potatoes (both sweet and white), peas and winter (yellow) squash.
The University of Michigan Integrated Medicine website gives excellent overall advise on healthy food selection and healthy eating and I recommend reading it.
The healing food pyramid is a great guide for a balanced diet, but the other ingredient for healing the body-mind-soul through a healthy diet is simply eating less. Brad Pilon, my favorite nutritionist and body builder, has a very simple, very novel concept of the food pyramid.
He believes the singular most important means to health is eating less. Period. Much more important than all the time and effort we put into figuring out how to get the healthiest diet. Wow, you say! Yes, if you look at his pyramid he has absolutely no recommendations regarding food groups, portions or anything else! Just the number of meals you should eat at what age group. For those of us over 25 years old it is 1-3 meals/day. Yes, you heard me right. One to three meals a day.
All the advertising and marketing that would lead us to believe that we must follow a certain diet for healthy weight loss, or a certain formula for optimal nutritional health is problematic, according to Brad. He says that merely eating less is the ‘pink elephant’ in the room that no one addresses! Novel indeed. He is the only nutritionist that makes sense to me, and he has the only healthy weight loss plan that has ever worked for me at my age, and I highly promote his concepts.
If weight loss is your biggest body-mind-soul issue, I would love to be your holistic health coach and help you journey to better health!
Ultimately the decision rests with you and your intuition, what works best for you. If you believe that you can be healthy, you will find health. If you trust that the healing of your body-mind-soul is obtainable, it will be so!
I hope that I have been able to provide you with some tools to get you started on your journey toward healing your body-mind-soul. May these food pyramids be your guide and may you find a balanced diet that meets your individual body-mind-soul needs!