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Throw Out The USDA Food Pyramid?

YES! Not only did this month’s journal Nutrition question the validity of the new 2010 USDA dietary guidelines, but the story was picked up by the popular magazine SELF!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the tide really was turning? If the USDA had finally bitten off more than it could chew?

From the SELF article:

Although Americans have dutifully and steadily reduced their intake of fat and cholesterol and increased their consumption of grains, obesity and other diet-related diseases have steadily increased.

What if the dietary guidelines are wrong?

Could you have imagined someone in the mainstream media asking this question 5 years ago? Yet here they are, today, asking it.

Of course, they probably feel safe asking it because of this month’s critical article published in the journal Nutrition. The article took the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) to task.

You see, the DGAC blames our current obesity epidemic on the public’s failure to follow their dietary guidelines. The evidence, though, suggests that the public is following the DGAC’s low-fat, low-cholesterol, high-grain diet and staying within caloric boundaries. In other words, the public has done exactly what the DGAC recommended, yet they’re getting more obese. They’re facing an epidemic of Type II Diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The recent Nutrition article makes that explicit:

In short, the macronutrient content of the diet has shifted in the direction recommended since the 1977 dietary goals. Total and saturated fat intakes have decreased as a percentage of caloriesdfor men, the absolute amount has decreaseddwhereas carbohydrate intake has increased [6]. Notable from the DGAC Report is the absence of any concern that this shift in macronutrient content may be a factor in the increase in overweight/obesity and chronic disease; the proposed recommendations suggest that this trend should not only continue but also become more pronounced.

Why is that, do you think? Why, in the face of all the evidence, does the DGAC continue to recommend dietary guidelines that are making the public more fat and unhealthy?

Could it be that they’re in the hands of giant agribusinesses? After all, what is the USDA if not the regulatory body created to ensure that the U.S. agricultural commodities (like corn, soy, and wheat) are profitable? Why are THEY the ones writing our dietary guidelines, anyway?

From the abstract:

Although appealing to an evidence-based methodology, the DGAC Report demonstrates several critical weaknesses, including use of an incomplete body of relevant science; inaccurately representing, interpreting, or summarizing the literature; and drawing conclusions and/or making recommendations that do not reflect the limitations or controversies in the science. Lack of supporting evidence limits the value of the proposed recommendations as guidance for consumers or as the basis for public health policy. It is time to reexamine how US dietary guidelines are created and ask whether the current process is still appropriate for our needs.


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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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11 Responses to Throw Out The USDA Food Pyramid?
  1. Raine Saunders
    October 11, 2010 | 8:18 pm

    Great expose! Yep, at some point all of this stuff that’s being covered up is just going to come out and people will know what’s been really going on. The truth can’t be hidden forever, although the USDA, other regulatory agencies, and agribusiness will probably do everything in their power and then some to continue covering it up, no matter how much evidence to the contrary comes to light.

  2. Alissa
    October 11, 2010 | 10:47 pm

    Wow, thank you for sharing that. I read through it, and will now need to do some follow up reading of some of the references sited. I’ve been struggling with my BF about decreasing carbs, and now I have the science that he’ll understand for why I want to do this. Hopefully he’ll finally get why I don’t feel well after we have rice and vegan lentils for dinner!

  3. Kelly Cook
    October 11, 2010 | 11:58 pm

    Hallelujah! Yes, maybe the tide is turning…I’m a latecomer to this style of eating, but better late than never, right?

  4. Pure Mothers
    October 12, 2010 | 3:09 am

    I agree with you. The nutrition guidelines are way off! Grains shouldn’t play such an important role. But I also think animal products shouldn’t either. Fruits, vegetables and beans and nuts should be recommended in higher amounts.

    “After all, what is the USDA if not the regulatory body created to ensure that the U.S. agricultural commodities (like corn, soy, and wheat) are profitable? are THEY the ones writing our dietary guidelines, anyway?”

    Most corn, soy and wheat is grown and sold to meat producers for factory farm feed – not for consumers directly. Consumer sales of those crops directly makes up a small fraction. And the “THEY” you speak of also sit on boards for the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, Dairy Board, etc. – so they are also influencing the guidelines. Why single out grain commodities and their lobbyists as the villains when the dairy board, etc. is doing the same thing?

  5. Ray - Pure Spontaneity
    October 12, 2010 | 4:50 am

    My wife reads this magazine so I’m gonna try and track down the article as I haven’t read it yet. This is great news, though. Hopefully, some of the “health and fitness” magazines will follow suit.

  6. The Table of Promise
    October 12, 2010 | 8:27 am

    Halelujah! I am seriously hoping that people will begin to listen. I definitely think that the USDA is in over their head. If they just came out and said “we were wrong, you all got sick because of us” the amount of wrongful deaths suits that would be brought against the country would bankrupt us all. And that isn’t practical. I will be curious as to how this will all work out….

  7. Paramjit
    October 12, 2010 | 9:46 am

    There is definitely vested interest from the agriculture industry. The pyramid just doe snot make sense. It has not reduced lifestyle diseases. In fact there has been a steady rise. The Harvard food pyramid seems to make more sense with emphasis on exercise and a multivitamin.

    • KristenM
      October 12, 2010 | 10:13 am

      That Harvard Pyramid is better in that its “use sparingly” category is refined sweeteners and flours. Really, though, these things shouldn’t be on any healthy food pyramid at all.

      BUT, it’s *all wrong* about what healthy fats are. Soy? Corn? Canola? These have only been around for a century at most (only a little more than a decade in the case of Canola) and wreak havoc on the human immune system, nervous system, etc. Healthier fats are the ones they relegate to the “use sparingly” category — the ones humans have been eating for thousands of years, the ones our bodies are designed to eat and flourish on, the saturated fats found in animals and tropical plants like palm and coconut.

      It would be better to create a Food Pyramid that focused on nutrient-density, so that the most nutrient-dense foods made up the bulk of the calories (if not the volume) in the diet. I like the one I shared in this post.

  8. Stephanie
    October 12, 2010 | 10:38 am

    Love this! Finally people are having the guts to question the system that clearly hasn’t worked since it was put into place.

    I wanted to share an awesome post by Dr. Brownstein, one of the champions of questioning athority! It’s his response to Michigan trying to make it so only RD’s can dispense any sort of nutritional advice:

    Love this little gem: “I do question the ADA and their teaching model as it has perpetuated the chronic health care problems we are facing today such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. As for trusting information from the ADA and RD’s, I suggest looking at the food choices at any hospital and then deciding whether it is best to trust the advice from the ADA (who receives coroporate sponsorship from Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, Mars, Hershey’s, General Mills, and others). It is clear that the ADA should not be in control of licensing who can and is not capable of giving correct nutritional advice.”

  9. FreshGreenKim
    October 14, 2010 | 2:19 pm

    You’re in fine company with your opinion.

    It all seems like corporately motivated pyramid scheme to me…

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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