Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
3 Nov

Introducing the New Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid

21Day 3D Food PyramidWhen I got involved with this blogging thing, I figured I’d stick with it for a year or so and then run out of things to say. 365 posts in 365 days seemed like a tall order by itself, let alone maintaining such a schedule into perpetuity. I felt I had something to offer people, and I knew what I was talking about, but that there were limits. Yeah, 365 posts would do nicely. I could get some stuff off my chest and maybe help some folks in the process. Why not?

So much for that.

A year passed and I just kept writing without even noticing. Yeah, I had exhausted all the topics for which I’d originally planned, but new ones kept popping up and grabbing me. Sometimes as I researched a topic, I’d discover something totally unrelated (but extremely interesting to me) to that topic. Little niggling thoughts about health/fitness/nutrition tend to embed themselves in my brain and wiggle around until I acknowledge them, so once I was finished with the original piece I’d usually dig into the new one and come up with a new post. Other post ideas arose organically, usually from some offhand comments by a reader.

As my readership grew, I started receiving a lot of feedback via email and comment sections. They’d bounce ideas off of me and each other, and I off them, and it was like this great big undergrad setting with ideas rattling around (inside and outside my head). There was no shortage of post fodder, but best of all, my ideas about health, fitness, and nutrition were evolving day by day. You guys proved to be the deepest source of ideas and innovation. Or, put another way, knowing I had an ever-growing team of sharp readers watching and judging my ideas kept me from slacking off.

Which brings me to the new Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid, published in the recently released Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformation.

The old one was working just fine. Its basic message – eat lots of plants and animals – is still my basic message, and you’d be hard-pressed to eat poorly while following its recommendations, but is that good enough? Is “just fine” good enough for you? It isn’t for me. I want (and expect) simplicity, succinctness, both of which the old pyramid has, but also clarity and thoroughness (gosh, “thoroughness” just sounds awful; is there a better noun form of “thorough”?). The old pyramid left a lot up to the reader to figure out, and I think it could have been more clear and thorough. With the new pyramid, I addressed those and other concerns.

Well, before I explain the differences, let’s take a look at the two so you can see for yourself.

Here’s the old pyramid (click to enlarge).

Food Pyramid old front

Here’s the new pyramid (click to enlarge).

food pyramid flat 2011sm 1

The most noticeable change is making meat/fish/fowl/eggs, rather than produce, the base. It’s actually not a huge thematic change, as I’ve always suggested that animal products comprise the bulk of calories, but now it’s clear. Before, I’d often have to clarify to people that yes, vegetables may often make up the bulk of your food by sheer volume, but no, they will probably not make up the bulk of your food by caloric content. The repositioning of the two sections makes that clearer and less confusing.

I added an entirely new section: “Moderation Foods.” My thinking on certain foods has changed over the years, and this is my acknowledgment of that. Fruit, while an awesome, delicious method of seed dispersal that I’m glad plants employ, may not be right for everyone in unlimited quantities. Dense carb sources like starchy tubers and wild rice, while probably worth limiting and outright avoiding for people trying to lose weight, can be useful in the right situations. Dairy is another tool that many find extremely helpful (and tasty), and I’ve realized that nuts/nut butters/nut oils aren’t like other sources of fat, and that moderation is probably prudent. When thinking changes, so to must the products of that thinking.

You’ll also notice that I’ve added more sub-sections. So, instead of fruits and vegetables (including starchy tubers and roots, presumably) being lumped together, I separated them. Why? Well, a fruit is not a vegetable is not a potato. They all rely on photosynthesis, leaves or leafy-like things, water, a good loamy, nutrient-rich soil, and the caring hand of either Mother Nature or a grizzled farmer to come into existence, but they confer very different metabolic and health effects. In the old pyramid, rice is a grain (and therefore not allowed) and a sweet potato is a vegetable, but the new pyramid acknowledges that they share more commonalities than differences. For athletes looking to increase their carb intake, both are good ways to do it. The old pyramid didn’t make that clear, while the new way of classifying foods makes it obvious.

I also sacrificed brevity for clarity. Consider what the old pyramid said: “Approved Fats and Oils.” Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and I still stand by the fact that you should only consume “approved fats and oils.” But what is an example of an approved fat and oil? You might know it off the top of your head, but what about the person who’s just getting into this? The pyramid isn’t just for the person who can bust out a list of every animal fat arranged in order of omega-6 fat content on the fly. It’s also for the person who still has a tub of margarine in the fridge. It’s also for the guy whose browser doesn’t autofill “Paleohacks” when he so much as thinks about typing a “P.” And for those folks, for the beginners (and the curious who want a quick idea of this Primal Blueprint nonsense without reading blogs or books), giving a rough idea of what I mean by “approved fats and oils” is extremely helpful. “Oh, butter, coconut oil, and animal fats for eating, and avocados, macadamia nuts, and olives/extra virgin olive oil for eating? That’s easy enough for now, and if I need more info, maybe I’ll check out the articles on the website,” is what we’re shooting for here. I still think it reads well and reads quickly. I don’t think the brevity “sacrifice” was a crushing one.

I also included a nice serving of “why” along with the “what” and the “which.” See, the Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid is a lot of folks’ introduction to the PB. And people want justification. They don’t just want to be spoon-fed rules, or be given blanket prescriptions without knowing why they’re being given out. Especially when it’s telling you to eat the bulk of your calories in the form of animals and animal fat. I mean, this could be the first time they’ve ever read the words “saturated fat” without the “artery clogging” modifier. We’ve got some ‘splainin to do; we can’t just gloss over it and assume they’re aware of the current science of saturated fat.

I tossed in “Sensible Indulgences,” because I realized that those indulgences weren’t just some throw-away option that a few people take advantage of. And it’s not just cause I wanted to justify my own red wine and dark chocolate habits. They were actually crucial parts of the Primal Blueprint, and in my experience dealing with thousands of people over the years, I’ve learned that the red wine and the chocolate (among others) are often what makes following the PB a realistic, sustainable alternative to conventional wisdom.

With all that said, the pyramid remains essentially the same. The focus is still on the importance of eating whole, real food. Grains, vegetable oils, and sugar are still woefully underrepresented. And the dietitians are still going to hate it (heck, they’ll hate it even more than before!). The thinking is more refined (or, gasp, processed), but that just means it’s even better than before.

If I didn’t make it abundantly clear already, I’m always open to refining the new pyramid, either because something is more confusing than helpful, or if new research dictates that changes be made. Lay into me (and it) if you must. And that’s a standing offer.

Okay – I’m done for today. If you have any questions about the new pyramid, leave them in the comment section. Thanks for reading.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. great clarification with fats on the new pyramid. was getting sick of seeing in the forum how some primal peeps advocate most calories should come from fats!

    Isis wrote on November 4th, 2011
    • But doesn’t the new pyramid actually say that?…
      If the bulk of your calories are coming from meat, fish, fowl and eggs, then most of your calories will be from animal fats and protein. So unless you are only eating lean meats, you will most likely still be getting more calories from fat than protein.

      @Mark have you also added new suggested ratios of fat:protein:carbs?

      Misabi wrote on November 4th, 2011
  2. Mark, thank you for simplifying my “simple mind,” I was FAT…6’1″, 257 lbs of fat, crappy feeling, SAD living, looking forward to my next craving of fat and sugar.

    That was one year ago. On October 24, 2010 my wife got me to try a program called “Medifast.” Google it if you want, the premise was 5 (bars/shakes/prepackaged soy products) and 1 “Lean and Green meal. I told my friends about it and I started dropping weight IMMEDIATELY, to the tune of 35 lbs by early January 2011. Not something for others to try but it got my mind going in the right direction…I needed a kick in the pants to get healthy and this helped me get started on the right path to understanding how food affects my body.

    The weight loss began to slow to 2-3lbs/week but during that time, a friend told me I was doing it all wrong and losing too fast…I should check out this website called MDA. I did…and Mark, you opened my eyes to all of my FOOD sensitivities. As I transitioned off of the Medifast Program and read every Paleo/Primal type of book I could I bought the premise totally. BECAUSE of the way food made me feel…or the way it helped me AVOID feeling.

    Sadly I can’t do as much activity as I would like due to an auto accident in February of 2010 but what I can do is eat right and listen to my body.

    I’m now down at 188 lbs, down from 257 lbs one year ago and feel GREAT!. If I have a bowl of pasta, I feel like I’m comatosed (sp) about 15 minutes later. I’ve had maybe 4 sandwiches in the past year. I love my gelato and an occasional oatmeal cookie while shopping at Whole Foods or Mom’s. I’ve gone from wearing all XXL clothes, a 40″ waist pants pushing a 42″ waist to 34″ waist pants. My wife took me to a store in the Annapolis mall called “Lucky” the other day for jeans and I fit into a 33″!!! So now I have 1 pair of jeans that fits. I couldn’t believe it, I haven’t been in 33″ waist pants since I was 19, I’m 36 now.

    I remember when I started reading about all of the Whole Food/Organics…I thought, what a “crock” and probably a ripoff and it’s sooo expensive. Then I began incorporating and replacing those type of foods in my families diet and realized how much better they taste and better I feel after eating them. Even the kids responded (my 10 y/o daughter required a little more effort than my 7 y/o boy) positively, now they usually reach for the “right” food without a second thought (mental note…get the Halloween candy out of the house). Then I noticed how I felt and how much BETTER the food tasted. We tend to keep less food in the house, shop more often for the freshest meat/veggies and hardly anything gets wasted. Most garbage cravings began to subside…with the worst week being the “Carb Flu” week. Once I got past that, I was in cruise control.

    It’s the sensitivities my body feels to ALL different types of foods that stands out the most! The positive ones that make me feel great and many negative that will make me feel ILL immediately (ie. I had a sip of a milkshake from my daughter the other day and my throat felt like it was swelling closed and I couldn’t stop trying to clear my throat).

    Like I said before, I physically can’t do as much as I would like because of my back and hip, but after seeing what my body is capable of, I tell you this from experience…90% of it is what you put in your mouth and NOT necessarily what you physically do. Now, don’t get me wrong, when I am able to go to the gym and lift a little…do some light cardio or take a LONG fast paced walk, I feel europhic (sp), but because of the pain eating in line with the above principles has changed my life and my families. That’s why I’ve been up since 1:40 am (now 4:49 am) because of back/sciatica pain, that and sorry for my notes/ideas and train of thought being ALL over the place!

    Mark, your guidelines are definitely the easiest to understand and follow. I get friends and acquaintances all the time who either haven’t seen me in awhile or know that I’ve lost a ton (69 lbs) of weight and say how did you do it. First thing I tell them is get rid of the bread and rice! It’s the single easiest thing, a side from that…sugar falls into place because the desire is no longer there (for me at least). Most are interested immediately…then when explaining the premise, that’s when the “DEER IN THE HEADLIGHTS LOOK KICKS IN,” my wife usually nudges me and tells me to stop preaching. Maybe I just get too excited and lose them, but I can’t help it, IT WORKS…I tell her. She’s a very emotional eater and if she so much as tries something that isn’t good she has the potential to fall off the wagon IMMEDIATELY.

    I wish I had known this about my body 10, or even 20 years ago when I was younger…this lifestyle has had the greatest impact on me, greater than anything else I’ve experienced.

    Thanks Mark and to the rest of you, the MDA Community!

    JLHDU

    Jason, Leanne, Hayley and Drew U.

    JLHDU wrote on November 4th, 2011
    • It’s posts like these that make me glad that I scroll through the comments. Congrats on your progress… and keep preaching the good trooff!! haha

      Simon wrote on November 4th, 2011
      • Me too! Great job Jason!

        Emily wrote on November 4th, 2011
    • This is a great story. I would love to read some more.

      Why don’t you send this in to MDA with a photo as a Friday success story, reach a wider audience and inspire even more?

      Alison Golden wrote on November 4th, 2011
      • Thanks, I’m going to have to look…I’m sure I have plenty of FAT pictures (ha ha).

        After looking at the write-up again, I was all over the place.

        Mark may use anything I wrote above, I ordered the new book off of Amazon the other day, it should be here my 11/9 and I can’t wait.

        Thanks all, the MDA community is a great family to have!

        Jason

        Jason wrote on November 5th, 2011
  3. Don’t know if anyone mentioned this already, but this would be an awesome and simple app. PBF Pyramid, and click on any level to see the best examples or recipes. Just saying. Love the site.

    davenc wrote on November 4th, 2011
  4. Hi Mark,
    thx for the update!
    This is much better, and for me, it narrows the gap between Paleo and LCHF.

    And by that it makes it easier to understand/belive that this is the right way to look at the human diet.

    The old conventional diet will soon have to give in and accept that change is coming.

    //Daniel

    Daniel wrote on November 4th, 2011
  5. Mark, I know you would disagree with the distribution and servings of foods on the “Healthy Eating Pyramid” (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/files/Healthy-Eating-Pyramid-handout.pdf), but do you think you should also show the importance of maintaining a Primal exercise routine while eating Primally on your pyramid? I know the importance of the exercise portion of the Primal Blueprint to living healthfully on the Primal diet, so this addition would make the pyramid complete and people who saw it would realize ALL that goes in to being their best and most healthy (and make it poster ready).

    Andrew wrote on November 4th, 2011
  6. I’m genuinely happy that the food I love is all on that pyramid. Although, I would have made a own major, separate layer for bacon :)

    Simon wrote on November 4th, 2011
  7. My question is about plums, they are a pitted fruit so are those suggested on the same level as peaches or should they be eaten less?

    gayle wrote on November 4th, 2011
  8. Yes, new poster please!!! I’ve had the older one hanging in my classroom for a while now (and one in the faculty room) and I would love to replace them with the newer version. The posters spark a lot of good discussion and questions! Of course, I would like to have my new poster signed as well (like my older version). ;)

    Laurie D. wrote on November 4th, 2011
  9. Calories still count. I will probably be counting forever, but now with lower insulin levels.

    Lisa wrote on November 4th, 2011
  10. I already eat like this, have six pack abs, etc etc. I was sitting outside this morning thinking. Thinking about what I would eat if there were no supermarkets this winter. Knowing, that I would be eating meat, and thinking how silly vegetarians are in their convoluted thinking.

    Bill wrote on November 4th, 2011
  11. The new one looks a lot better to me. Much more similar to how I eat than the previous one.

    How as your take on rice, potatoes and starchy vegetables (such as bananas) changed in the last year or so? After reading some of the stuff on the PHD blog, I’m starting to become somewhat convinced that starches are a good idea.

    Josh Frey wrote on November 4th, 2011
  12. Definitely inspiring! Now for something depressing: http://shine.yahoo.com/channel/health/5-things-you-didn-t-know-about-carbs-2596384/

    Yes, it’s Conventional Wisdom and it’s flawed, but Yahoo has a pernicious way of making it sound like Established Fact.

    Mari wrote on November 4th, 2011
  13. Love the new pyramid. The idea of including sensible indulgences (for me the dark chocolate and coffee with heavy cream) was what made me think I could actually do this. I agreed with the science, but looking at the more rigid versions of primal/paleo, I just couldn’t see living the rest of my life without ever eating chocolate! Your more moderate version of Primal was what gave me the impetus to jump in :) Thanks Mark!

    Lily King wrote on November 4th, 2011
  14. Good perspective. I needed the reminder to go easy on the nuts and dairy.

    Mark 2 wrote on November 5th, 2011
  15. Mark, I’m so glad to read this post! I was kind of confused by the previous pyramyd, so the new one it’s REALLY great! My best wishes for you and thanks for sharing!

    Vicky wrote on November 5th, 2011
  16. Wow. I have been a long-time reader and practicer, but never once commented until now. Mark, in my opinion, this new pyramid is your best work yet! Thank you so much, and I will continue to put it to good use.
    Effing sweet…

    NRH wrote on November 7th, 2011
  17. http://www.naturopath4you.com/PDFs/PyramidChart.pdf

    did you take any inspiration from david getoff’s pyramid mark?

    tone wrote on November 7th, 2011
  18. Sounds like a great diet, but I would still consider going few days per week meatless. I think, there are some excellent vegetable protein sources that don’t raise much blood sugar, like tofu, beans, peanut butter.

    Milan wrote on November 8th, 2011
    • Tofu? Beans? Peanut butter? Soy? Ewww!

      Seriously? Those are all chock full of harmful toxins and anti-nutrients. Despite the protein content, some of which is toxic, they’re about 50% carbs, so don’t look at them as low carb. There’s absolutely nothing healthy there.

      I’d rather go on an all meat diet! I’m not sure who came up with the idea that eating less meat is good idea, but they either had an agenda or were seriously misled.

      We humans have been eating mostly meat for hundreds of thousands of years during the ice ages and we did just fine. In fact, if we hadn’t adapted to carnivory, we would have gone extinct.

      raydawg wrote on November 18th, 2011
  19. So I noticed high fat dairy was added to the plan but in moderation. I’ve read a lot on dairy’s negative effects and cut it out in result. I used to be a big muscle meal candifate for after workouts… What is the consensus on such?

    Andrew Schwartz wrote on December 5th, 2011
  20. I’m super bummed that fruits went from a solid 30 pt. font at bottom of pyramid all the way to a 9 pt. font under moderation foods! Fruit is what keeps me sane! Now I’m just going to feel terrible every time I eat a piece of fruit . . . especially when it’s not a berry!

    Turntables wrote on January 17th, 2012
  21. Three cheers from my corner on the new pyramid. I am new to the Paleo/Neander Thin lifestyle (I have done the low carb for a long period a few years back and it did make all the difference in my body weight, etc.) So, finding your pyramid makes things much more doable for the long haul, which I personally hugely appreciate. Something that I can’t live with “forever” isn’t worth all the beginning efforts and worry. You’ve made it doable…yay, now I will not feel guilty when friends invite us over for dinner and a glass of wine. Thanks for your blog, it has given me renewed hope that this new lifestyle can last.

    Leigh wrote on February 4th, 2012
  22. I am not grizzled.

    I am voluptuous, hourglass shaped, clear-eyed, Ivy League-educated, and with the complexion of someone 20 years younger.

    Enough with the stereotypes about farmers, please. We aren’t all grizzled elders, bovinely huge males, and “apple cheeked farm wives.”

    In fact some of us are black, queer, disabled, and even very very young.

    Farmer Pat wrote on March 20th, 2012
  23. Great article! I think you meant “cooking” instead of “eating” for this part “Oh, butter, coconut oil, and animal fats for eating”.

    Brett wrote on April 9th, 2012
  24. How about a nice A4 size printable version with pictures of food to be coloured in and cut out and arranged to counteract the pretty USDA pyramids that come home from school ?

    Ann wrote on May 6th, 2012
  25. Where do beans/legumes fit?

    Jamie wrote on May 22nd, 2012
  26. How can you justify the environmental impact of this pyramid with meat and fish as the base? How can earth support 9 billion of us eating such a diet? It sounds like this pyramid is intended for the cushy fiscally-fit nations. Certainly in 50 years it will not be sustainable when China and India emerge.

    Carol wrote on September 13th, 2012
  27. I’m glad to see meat as the basis of the new pyramid! I get so tired of people telling me I’d lose weight, feel better, be healthier if only I’d fill my plate with yummy veggies. The fact is, I don’t like vegetables much, and I don’t feel very good if I eat a lot of them at once. They make me gassy and leave a bad taste in my mouth, and even eating a whole plateful leaves me hungry. I lose weight easiest and look and feel best when my diet is mostly meat and fish, animal fats and tropical oils. Other people may love vegetables and do well basing their diets on them, but I wish they would stop trying to convince me that I should too. Whether they’re coming from Primal or CW, it sounds the same.

    Elizabeth wrote on November 20th, 2012
  28. Be interesting to see the pyramid laid out as a 24-hour plate maybe?

    Carol wrote on February 13th, 2013
  29. Like most of the refinements, but my vote goes to reversing the two bottom layers (leaving in the comments about calories). Even through this thread, it is clear some people are interpreting it on a quantity (not caloric) basis.

    Frank wrote on February 13th, 2013
  30. I love the increased clarity and simplicity.

    I’d like to see more said in the vegetables section about low glycemic index, colorful, etc. vegies.

    michael wrote on March 1st, 2013
  31. ditch the wheat, corn, and white potatoes, keep the rice and oats

    after like six months if you dont eat rice you will get bad headaches and confusion, probably from low blood sugar… you can eat vegetables and fruit all day but they arent digested well and most people tend not to get enough carbs from them no matter how much you eat… try to get an imported rice which avoids arsenic, basmati is a good choice and has the same glycemic as sweet potatoes

    S wrote on April 25th, 2013
  32. Not to get hung up on details, but I really think fruits should be back at the base of the pyramid. Fruits are the best source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. A tomato has more than 10K phytochemicals, which far exceed the few chemicals isolated in even the best supplements. Unless you’re trying to lose major weight, its really important to incorporate a range of low/medium-GI fruits into the diet. Moving nut butters to a higher point makes a lot of sense, as they are processed into a form that allows massive carb/fat consumption- a really bad combo.

    JH wrote on August 29th, 2013
  33. Too many comments to sort through and see if anyone suggested this, but if the pyramid is based on pure calories instead of volume, then wouldn’t fats technically be at the bottom? That said, I do love this new pyramid :)

    Alex wrote on September 19th, 2013

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