JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Monday, May 14, 2007

Pyramid plan for healthy eating

Until recently, health departments displayed a healthy eating plan using a pyramid: the base showed complex carbs - bread, pasta, cereals, pulses, rice; next, fruit and veg; then protein, divided into meat/fish, and dairy products; the tip - meaning only tiny daily amounts - represented fats and oils.

The pyramid was largely aimed at reducing consumption of fats, and it was influential in achieving a reduction. But since it was introduced in 1992, our understanding of the role of fats in the diet has hugely increased - we now know that there are two types of cholesterol, and that just cutting out fat and replacing them with carbs doesn't really cut the mustard, your diet needs to include some types of oils which boost "good" cholesterol - olive oil, oily fish.

And so the pyramid has been revised. It doesn't have quite the same graphic simplicity, so instead, the US department of agriculture has a website - Steps to a healthier you - which will help you to find the healthiest diet for you, depending on your own circumstances. Once you've got your healthy diet guidelines, there are tips to help you achieve it ("inside the pyramid").

Definitely worth visiting.


Ilva said...

Joanna, please add this post to the HotM blog, it's so useful! I'm adding the link!

Shirley said...

This is the same pyramid used by diabetics. Even though we can not eat the "white foods",( breads,potatoes, rice, pasta) we can eat grains that have a lot of fiber. Thanks, your blog is very nice. I was looking for low-carb recipes I could use in my diet when I found yours.Please let your readers know that they can find diabetic recipes at Diabetic Recipes

Anonymous said...

This diagram and the one that preceded it from the US Department of Agriculture are not without controversy!

The one before this, which was around in my childhood in the US, showed the 'four basic food groups':

Fruit and Veg
Milk and Dairy

We were taught you were supposed to eat 4-4-3-2 portions per day, with these numbers corresponding to the groups as listed above. We were taught this in classes and it was reinforced with ads in all mass media outlets.

When it came time to rewrite these rules, and create the food pyramid, the main sticking points were the last two groups (dairy and meats). Vegetarians and vegans pointed out that they didn't necessarily eat from these groups and were perfectly healthy, and the large food companies insisted that they should keep their prominence of having their most profitable processed foods in two out of four food groups.

The negotiations that led to the food pyramid in this post were really seriously flawed, and very political. It's no surprise it only lasted a few years before it was time to replace it with the USDA website, which has it's own flaws, mostly in that it's too complicated for the average person to really take seriously.

Behind all of this dietary advice, is the premise that would should all eat more rather than avoiding harmful foods, which isn't a very useful position for any government to take in my opinion.

Joanna said...

Yes. It seems to me that the single best thing you can do to improve your diet is to cut out all industrially processed food, and prepare from scratch everything you eat. Then you know what you're eating, and can make rational decisions. It doesn't have to be a huge chore, even for people who don't like cooking, even for people who are busy. But it's hard fighting against the vested interests of the food industry and all its advertising, and so many children now are being brought up by people who don't know how to cook.