There are a lot of suggestions of what we should eat, what we shouldn’t eat and what we should perhaps, maybe eat (but only if it has a pinch of seaweed on it).
These things are generally dubbed “diets” and are equally generally incredibly misleading.
What seems to have stuck around as a guide is the food pyramid, first published in Sweden in 1974. And it honestly hasn’t changed much since 1992. The idea is that you “should” eat most of what’s on the bottom of the pyramid, and least of what’s at the top.
For this post I’m going to play a game. I’m going to imagine that I get to reassess the food pyramid, and that I get to recommend a new, updated, healthy version. You game?
Good. Let’s get started.
Picture from usda.gov
So, lets start with the easy part: what’s wrong with the food pyramid we’re currently meant to follow?
Firstly, I find it outdated for today’s society. For our (mostly, and, sadly, increasingly) sedentary lifestyle we don’t need that much energy, as provided by that much carbohydrate. Sitting by the computer, occasionally using your brain, does not burn as much energy as manual farming did or hunting and gathering food did for our forefathers.
These carbs are furthermore all refined, making them completely different from what grains and wheat used to look like only a few generations ago. And “5-12 servings” of grains per day is absurd to me! That’s way too much.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know my view on grains by now. If you haven’t, let’s just cut it down to that, in my opinion, they raise your blood sugar too much for it to be healthy, and elevated blood sugar (once your body can’t handle it anymore) means… Yupp, Type 2 Diabetes. And, yupp, this also includes the “healthy” whole grains, brown rices and whole wheat breads. Essentially, all grains do a similar thing to your body as candy, cakes and ice cream does. Just a little slower.
And if you’re concerned about not getting enough energy from carbs by shutting grains out of the equation, the majority of vegetables do have carbohydrates. Just not as much in one serving. For example, an avocado, while technically a fruit, on average has ca 17 grams of carbohydrates. And it will fill you up plenty, unlike the often 80-100 grams of carbohydrate pasta servings needed to achieve the same goal: fill you up.
Speaking of avocado: there’s not nearly enough healthy fat in this pyramid. Fat is needed by your body for energy, to build things like enzymes and hormones (especially sex hormones, explaining why low-fat eaters often “don’t feel like it” – their bodies can’t build enough hormones!), to cushion your muscles from your bones and to provide insulation, to mention a few things. In short: your body needs fat!
What about the proteins? Where’s the meat, chicken, fish? Almost at the top! This means there isn’t nearly enough proteins for your body to rebuild itself, to repair injuries and renew cells. And, once and for all, eggs are not harmful, they are amazing sources of many nutrients that are difficult to get elsewhere.
To clarify, I’m not saying you should eat only proteins (my name isn’t “Atkins”, after all), as that can be harmful as well, but it definitely should be more than this pyramid is advocating in any case.
So many processes in the body are steered by fatty acids and amino acids (fats and proteins), and there are essential forms of both. In this case, essential means that they have to be added to the body through food, as it can’t produce them itself. Whereas there are no essential forms of carbohydrates or sugars.
Ok, I realise I’m being a Negative Nancy here. Is there anything positive with this pyramid at all?
Yes. One thing: the only thing I wouldn’t rearrange on this pyramid is the sweets – I’d keep them up there at the top, or, better yet, remove them completely.
Recently, there has been an attempt at “revolutionising” the pyramid, through Myplate.gov. Did it get much better though?
Picture from myplate.gov
My initial reaction is: why oh why spend a ton of money on developing this, when it’s essentially exactly the same as the pyramid? It’s not majorly improved, nor healthier.
At least it doesn’t specifically say one should eat 60% grains with every meal (which diabetes patients are STILL commonly told, although they are unable to process sugar (grains = sugar)!) – at least that’s something.
I still wonder why it’s advised to drink milk with every meal though? Calcium, I bet your guess is. But calcium is, to a large extent, found in dark leafy green vegetables, seeds, nuts, herbs, some with a higher calcium content than milk! And while calcium is essential to bone health, it’s not the only thing needed for strong bones, either.
Moving on. If all this is crap, how would you make it look, Hanna?
Well, wow. Thanks for asking!
I consider myself lucky, because luckily you and I don’t have to follow the old ways, we both live in a free world. And what foods you spend your money on is what you’re voting to see more of in the stores.
I also consider myself lucky, because although I’ve made many modified pyramids while studying nutrition, I recently found an amazing version of the food pyramid already made by Paleohacks. This, my friend, is more according to what I see as being healthy food for me, you, and every one we know.
Picture from paleohacks.com
As you can see, there are NO grains and NO sweets on there, just the way I like it! The sweetest and sugariest you’ll find here is fruit and some carbier vegetables. There’s masses of low-carb vegetables, good, healthy fats and proteins, as well as nutritious nuts and seeds. Not to forget though: drinking water and daily exercise. A lot of clean, fresh water and a daily walk.
This is what is going to keep you healthier. This is what’s going to heal you. Mostly eating vegetables low in sugar, not grains turning into sugar the moment it hits your mouth. Not processed, yet acclaimed “super foods”. It’s real, healthy, natural food. And lots of it. Remember: proteins and fats are what your body needs, they are essential to add.
The best thing is that this pyramid is so clear and well made that there can’t be a doubt of what you should go for and not.
This is pretty much what I eat and what I follow to feel the best that I can feel. So now you know my secret. If you’d like to tell me one of your (food) secrets, please feel free – I’d love to hear it! And: what do you think of the Food Pyramid? Is it something you pay attention to?
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