A Better Food Pyramid

The problem with the USDA Food Pyramid is that it’s produced by the US Department of Agriculture, an organization that is tasked with the sole purpose of promoting American agriculture and food consumption.  The Food Pyramid is also the product of quite a bit of political wrangling and back door deals as educators, who put forth sound guidelines, watched their recommendations get “tweaked” by lobbying groups and politicians interested in favoring their own districts.

At least that’s the opinion of Walter Willett, nutrition researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health.  The HSPH is unburdened from the constraints of the political system and solely focused on four decades of research to develop their pyramid.  It is a breath of fresh air.  Simple, straight-forward guidelines with no ambiguity or room for interpretation.  Are you listening Mr. President?

Willett proposes an alternative to the USDA pyramid in his latest book, “Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating”, to help us towards true wellness and longevity.  (Amazon Affiliate Link)

Five Simple Guidelines

Willett has developed a block of five tips to start with. They are listed in order of importance.

  1. Exercise and maintain an appropriate weight. By keeping your BMI at 23 or below, you can avoid a lot of medical issues down the road.
  2. Focus on foods, not grams.  You don’t have to weigh and measure everything.  Just generally follow the guidelines of the pyramid and you’ll be fine.
  3. Go with plants.  Focus your meals around fruits and vegetables first and then layer in whole grains, meats, and oils.  If you stay faithful to this approach, you’ll really lower your risks of several diseases.
  4. Avoid American staples.  Highly processed food and food products that are heavy in saturated fats should be treated as an occasional treat only.  Use sparingly.
  5. Take a multi-vitamin and, if appropriate, a drink.  Willett refers to a multi-vitamin as an “insurance policy” and alcohol has been proven beneficial to most people.  Obviously alcoholics would want to skip this as well as people with certain medical conditions.

Willet’s book is engaging and his research is impossible to refute.  He also does an excellent job of covering the history of the current USDA Food Pyramid and why it is so ineffective.  When you realize all the politics and special interests that went into designing the government’s pyramid, you’ll become disgusted.  There are lobbying groups that are literally playing with American lives in the interest of the group they’re representing.

What do you think of these guidelines?  Does having exercise as the cornerstone of a nutrition plan make sense to you?  Does this make you want to change your eating habits?

For more great information that’s in line with Willett’s research, check out the Top 10 Food Rules from Michael Pollan, another great research-based writer.

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