Whose Food Pyramid Is It Anyway?

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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TAGS:  big agra

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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17 thoughts on “Whose Food Pyramid Is It Anyway?”

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    I have also thought that if Americans actually did adhere to the current pyramid, we would be a pretty healthy nation – at least much healthier than we are now.

    Having said all that, I do not focus on any pyramid personally. I just focus on 9+ servings out of F&V/day, 35+ grams of fiber/day and 75 grams of protein/day.

    It does not leave much room for other stuff.

  3. 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.

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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 with some dark colored corn. There was also a mall piece of cake with some icing. And last (but least) was this big, square glob of what I call “industrial pizza.” The whole thing looked terribly unappetizing.

    My grandson and I shared the same meal. A salad containing spinach, olives, banana peppers, cucumbers, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, and tuna fish. I asked him if he would rather be eating that pizza, and his answer warmed Grandpa’s heart: “Heck No!”

  7. 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 and uttering cuss words, yet laws restricting advertising aimed at children are “un-American.” “Schools need to teach kids to make smart choices. Parents need to learn to say no.” Yeah, right. That is why the Good Book counsels us, “Lead me not into temptation…”

  8. 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 with this is that if the pyramid tells them that they can and even need to eat sugar, dairy, and grains, then when they do eat these foods they feel like they are eating well. And they can use that as an excuse to eat poorly in other areas. Foods which are pretty much garbage actually seem reasonable according to the pyramid; pizza is probably the best example (it has all the food groups right?).

    The truth is that no one follows dietary guidelines 100%. The typical person will considerably overestimate portion sizes and underestimate nutritional content. Combine this with guidelines that are inherently flawed (telling you that you have to eat foods that shouldn’t be consumed in the first place) and you have the recipe for a nutritional disaster.

  9. 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.

  10. 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 to gain this info, and pay a lot of money to boot, but it was worth it!! I now put my money into the food (organic, no refined sugars, no dyes, and no dairy, or very little dairy), instead of into the doctor’s pockets or towards buying medicines that only make them worse, and cause other problems!! I’ve been doing this for over 3 yrs, and it is working great!! My kids now only go to the doctor’s for well visits or if they get hurt. 🙂

  11. 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.