- The US government’s food guide pyramid is facing criticism from nutrition professionals and health advisors, who argue that it promotes unhealthy eating habits.
- Introduced in 1991 as a replacement for the “four basic food groups”, the pyramid emphasises the consumption of breads, grains, and other high-carb foods and neglects the consideration of the “glycemic index” of carbohydrates, which determines how quickly food raises blood sugar levels after eating.
- Critics point out that the pyramid overlooks differences among various types of fats, including the potential health benefits of monounsaturated fats like olive oil. Also, the pyramid ignores the potential health benefits of low glycemic index foods, such as whole grains, which may contribute to the control or even prevention of adult-onset diabetes.
- Due to criticism, many private nutrition organizations have produced alternative food pyramids to promote healthier dietary habits. These alternatives often center around traditional Mediterranean, Asian, and vegetarian diets.
- The USDA faces potential conflicts of interest as it is tasked with both the promotion of the interests of the food and dairy industry as well as designing dietary guidelines.
The revered pyramid shape, once used as the chosen design for pharaoh tombs due to its stability, may not be as potent when applied to the US government’s food guide pyramid. This well-known dietary guide appears to be dissolving under the potent critique from nutrition professionals and health advisors, who argue that it is promoting unhealthy eating habits such as obesity and heart ailments.
Origin of the Food Pyramid
The U.S. Department of Agriculture introduced the food pyramid back in 1991 as a replacement for the concept of “four basic food groups”. This simplified rendition of nutritional requirements depicts food items that should be consumed in moderation, such as fatty foods, at the top of the pyramid. Breads, grains and other high-carb foods, on the other hand, form the base of the pyramid and are suggested as staple foods that one should eat most often.
Controversy Surrounding the Pyramid
However, detractors of the food pyramid argue that it overlooks the differences among various types of fats. For example, research indicates that monounsaturated fats like those in olive oil can actually reduce the risk of heart disease. It is further noted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the pyramid neglects the consideration of the “glycemic index” of carbohydrates, which is an essential factor as it determines how quickly food raises blood sugar levels after eating. The glycemic index bears extensive health implications.
Furthermore, foods that have a low glycemic index, such as whole grains, may contribute to the control or even prevention of adult-onset diabetes. There are also observations made in one report that highlight how snacking on starchy foods can lead to obesity, as hunger reintroduces itself more quickly after consuming simple carbohydrates.
Alternative Food Guides
All this dissatisfaction with the USDA’s pyramid has led many private nutrition organizations to come up with their own versions. “The USDA has multiple responsibilities, which includes promoting the interests of the food and dairy industry. There lie some conflicts of interest,” says Dr. Donald Hensrud, a nutrition expert who has designed his own weight-loss and management triangle.
Additionally, several exclusive food pyramids have been proposed to promote healthy traditional eating habits. The New York Daily News reports that versions of the food pyramid built around traditional Mediterranean, Asian, and vegetarian diets provide viable alternatives to the USDA’s version. A particular food pyramid even exists for the Irish diet (unfortunately, it doesn’t make room for Guinness!). The Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust provides information on some of these ethnic food pyramids.