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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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October 19, 2007

Whose Food Pyramid Is It Anyway?

By Mark Sisson
17 Comments

We’ve done quite a bit of ranting and issued endless criticisms of the FDA and the food pyramid. There, I said it. We did it here, and here, and talked about what you should be eating here. I’ve even offered up my own food pyramid (for carbs).

But whose food pyramid is it, anyway?

Though I regularly rail against the government’s grain-based, dairy-laden, sugar-rich recommendations, I have to wonder if anybody’s really following it anyway. Does the food pyramid make a hill of beans in the nutrition wars? We know the standard American diet is high in grain, dairy and sugar, but is this because those things are on the pyramid refrigerator magnet? Seems the other way around to me: Big Agra has an express interest in promoting cheap, unhealthy foods such as cereal and bread, and the government is simply the acquiescent mouthpiece. Marketing and advertising overwhelm the average American; the food pyramid merely reinforces the barrage.

You can make a reasonable libertarian argument that the government should not interfere with nutritional recommendations. I’m not saying I necessarily agree with that. You can also make a pretty good case that ensuring better health of the citizenry is in the government’s “interest” (not sure I like the sound of that, either). But the truth is that the government is too hamstrung bureaucratically to make sound scientific recommendations. Any recommendation the FDA or Uncle Sam makes will inevitably warrant investigation into possible political and special interest biases. And any recommendation is going to have significant detractors from the scientific community.

Who gets to say what is right and what is wrong? “Evidence” can be found for just about anything, and is. While I often get riled up about the food pyramid, I wonder if anyone even lives their lives by it – rightly or wrongly.

And should the government even be involved?

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11 Comments on "Whose Food Pyramid Is It Anyway?"

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Flying Trapeze
9 years 7 months ago

Personally, I’d rather save the money the government spent on coming up with the Food Pyramid and use it to buy myself an heirloom tomato.

primalman08
primalman08
9 years 7 months ago
This is a topic that I have thought about and discussed with others in the past. People tend to get very emotional when discussing various food pyramids for some reason. I have been guilty of it. But then at some point I thought to myself “Who really cares? People do not follow recommendations anyway.” There are things about the current food pryamid that I question as well. However, basic recommendations such as 1)eat at least 5 a day, and 2) get at least 25 grams of fiber per day, are not met with any regularity by the American public now.… Read more »
Jaime
9 years 7 months ago

Even if not a single American bases their diet around the pyramid, it has a huge impact in schools – I believe many (most?) public school lunch programs are based on the pyramid. (Getting my information from “Supersize Me,” here, but still.) And yet, ketchup=the only vegetable? Ketchup & tater tots? Scary. But it, technically, follows the rules.

Oxybeles
Oxybeles
9 years 7 months ago

Just like Health Care, the Government should not be involved! 😉

Crystal
Crystal
9 years 7 months ago

I think people who are trying to eat better do follow the food guide pyramid. I don’t think it’s on their fridge but most people believe that they need whole grains with every meal and are still afraid of fat(all fat).
Teachers use the food guide pyramid to teach nutrition. It’s usually hanging up in the cafeteria too. We’ve been trained well.

Dave C.
Dave C.
9 years 7 months ago
I should have taken out my camera phone today while I ate lunch with my grandson. I’ve been eating at school cafeterias 1-2 times a week for seven years. Today when I looked at what my grandson was eating and what the girl across the table was eating, I had to shake my head. Words can’t compare to the impact a picture would have had, but I’ll take a shot. One one corner of her tray, the young girl had a very small plastic container with some plain, shredded, iceberg lettuce. In the other corner was another small plastic container… Read more »
Sonagi
Sonagi
9 years 7 months ago
Seems the other way around to me: Big Agra has an express interest in promoting cheap, unhealthy foods such as cereal and bread, and the government is simply the acquiescent mouthpiece. Mark, my friend, government is no mere acquiescent mouthpiece but a financier of the diet that is debilitating and killing us. Libertarian arguments about personal choice seem to ignore that fact that government is already disrupting the free market through enormous agricultural subsidies. Moreover, our laws distinguish minors from adults and provide special protections for children. We live in a country where TV broadcasters are fined for flashing nipples… Read more »
Jeremiah Reid
9 years 7 months ago
Does anyone pay attention to the food pyramid? I think they do. Even if people don’t go directly to the government for the guidelines, the food pyramid will be referenced in many other places. If you take a nutrition class for instance, it’s likely that the text book will display the food pyramid and probably won’t stray too far from its recommendations. Do people then follow those recommendations? I think people look at the pyramid as what they “should” eat. They might not follow it all the time, but they could still recognize what they “should” be eating. The problem… Read more »
LabRat
9 years 7 months ago

I believe public health is part of the government’s responsibility- up to a point. That point is regulating food to make sure it won’t poison consumers through more direct means of contamination, enforcing vaccination laws for schoolchildren, and tracking down epidemics- areas where the medicine is clear-cut and even bureaucracy can’t screw it up *too* badly.

Nutrition, though? This is the same organization that couldn’t competently run the Post Office. Nutrition science is a field even the well-educated need a machete for, let alone bureaucrats.

Susanne
Susanne
9 years 6 months ago
Just for shits and giggles ~ if you look in the bottom corner of the ‘regulated food pyramid’, you’ll find that it is published by the NATIONAL DAIRY ASSOCIATION!!!!! They aren’t TOO biased, huh? My kids can’t eat dairy, it causes all kinds of congestion, ear infections, etc, etc., but not once did their regular doctor take them off of it ~ and they were even BOTH diagnosed w/Asthma! Yet, after getting them blood tests against 115 different kinds of food, both of their triggers were DAIRY ~ among other things. I had to take them to an ALTERNATIVE DOCTOR… Read more »
Daniel
Daniel
9 years 6 months ago

I don’t think the grain industry is any more powerful, compelling and convincing than the meat industry. They both have identical financial interests and they both would poison and kill many of us if that meant more power and money for them.
So in the food industry everyone is a villan whether they promote grain food and bread or meat and cheese, there’s no hero just a bunch of unscrupulous and greedy institutions.

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