Flipping the Pyramid – Are Things Upside Down?

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Guest Post – Is The Food Pyramid Upside Down?

My eight-year-old daughter returned from school one day and tells me that they talked about food and nutrition in her class. When I hear this, I get a little worried because I know a lot of what I tell her about diet and nutrition is completely opposite to what her teacher is telling her and I like for her to believe that her teacher knows what she is talking about. 

But my daughter surprises me with an astute observation: she tells me that the food pyramid that they gave her in class is upside-down. When I ask her what she means by that, she says that the foods I tell her she should be eating are at the top of the pyramid (which you are supposed to eat very little of) and the foods I tell her she should avoid are at the bottom (which supposedly constitutes most of your diet). 

I smile at her observation, not knowing if I’m more shocked by the fact that she actually listens to what I’m saying about food, or by the crazy notions of diet and health that are the basis of the current food pyramid. 

While flipping the pyramid is not exactly what I’m recommending, the food pyramid does need a good rearranging in order for it to truly reflect what you and I should be eating. 

The Food Pyramid

There is actually a new look to the food pyramid (check out http://www.mypyramid.gov/ ) but this a new look where nothing is really new. The government nutrition panel that created this new pyramid has only slanted the pyramid to look different, but has made no real changes to the food grouping percentages. It looks like a new pyramid, but is really just the same old food suggestions. 

In order to understand why my daughter thought the pyramid was upside-down, let’s take a look at the old pyramid: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What you will notice when looking at this pyramid is that the foods that you are supposed to eat the most of are at the bottom of the pyramid and consists of carbohydrates (grains and breads). 

This is the standard advice: You should build your diet on grains and carbohydrates because that is what humans are supposed to eat. These suggestions sound like good advice, but they are misleading because they fail to recognize what foods humans should be eating instead of what they are eating. 

What’s wrong with the suggestion that you should build your diet on grains and carbohydrate? A lot, let’s take a look.  

Try this Little Experiment 

The problem we have when trying to uncover the perfect human diet is that our memories are short.  When we think back to our ancestors, we all get pictures of them tending crops, making breads, or eating rice and other grains, but we are simply not thinking back far enough. 

Humans have been growing grains for somewhere around 7,000 years. This seems like a long time, but in evolutionary terms it is a very short time. Grain eating, especially the incredibly large amounts of carbohydrates we eat today, is a relatively new adaptation for humans. 

While there are many ways to argue why you shouldn’t be eating grains, there is a very easy experiment you can do in your head that will show you how silly it is that we eat grains. 

Imagine that you have a house that in the middle of an endless plain of wheat; everywhere you look, wheat is growing in plentiful abundance. You live in this little house with your family.

Now also imagine that you have no tools at your disposal; nothing to cut or grind the grain, no stove or oven, and not pots or pans. The only thing you can use to eat all this grain is your hands. How long do you think you and your family would survive, even if the supply of grain was endless?

The answer to that question is: not very long. 

What allows us to eat grains is that we have brains that are big enough to figure out that grains need to be processed in some form before we eat them. We cannot absorb enough of the nutrients from the grains if we were to simply go out to the field and start eating the raw grains. This isn’t true of fruits, vegetables and proteins. That means our bodies are not designed to eat grains in the way, say, a cow or goat’s body is designed to digest these foods. 

Grains are the original processed foods, the processing can be as simple as grinding or boiling the grains, but processed they must be before they go in your mouth. 

Just because we are smart enough to process grains doesn’t, though, doesn’t mean we should be eating them. We have radically changed the food choices of our species in ways that are harmful to us. Can we live on grains? Yes, but eating them means we are trading our good health for convenience and taste. 

A Real Pyramid

A food pyramid, that took in to account how humans should really be eating would look something like this: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bottom of the food pyramid is filled with fruits and vegetables which are what should make up the bulk of your diet. Proteins and dairy are used less, but still important to include in your diet. The top of the pyramid are where the optional foods reside, you don’t need them to survive and should only use them occasionally – if at all. 

How to Make it Work for You

Here are some tips to making the flipped pyramid work for you: 

- Replace every grain in your diet with a fruit or vegetable. For every meal where you have bread, cereal, or other grain, you simply remove the grain and eat a vegetable or fruit. This one step will add years of health to your life. 

- Avoid or eliminate sugars from your diet. 

- If you are unwilling to do anything dramatic with your diet, at least remove soda. Soda alone is responsible for more ill health than even cigarettes. 

- Make sure you are eating something fresh and crunchy with every meal. 

- Eat a variety of different foods that include fruits, vegetables and proteins. 

- Dairy is a great food, but also very concentrated and many people have dairy allergies (even if you don’t think you do). Take some time to discover if dairy is a good for you and even if it is, use it in moderation. 

While it is hard to kick the carbohydrate addiction we all have, it does get easier with time and you will find that your taste buds adapt to a new way of eating rather quickly. Eating a diet based on the true pyramid is a much healthier way to eat and, hopefully, the dietary experts who create the pyramid will wake up to the notion that humans are much healthier when they base their diet on fruits and vegetables instead of grains.  

This was a Guest Post by Dr. Scott Olson you can check out his new book Sugarettes which is out soon and please check out his blog over here….

I am really looking forward to read the book myself if you check out the Table of Contents and The First Chapter you will see that it seems to be very well laid out and applicable to the normal person. Dr. Olson struck me as a person who simply wants to help people living healthier lives that is why I have featured him on the blog and endorse his work. I will be reviewing the book Sugarettes in the coming weeks so keep an eye out.

Comments

  1. Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later says

    Dr Scott – really enjoyed your post. One thing that struck me is that you could apply the same rationale to dairy as you have to grains. In other words, if you had a house in the middle of a pasture full of non-domesticated bovines with no tools or farming know-how, you would be hard pushed to acquire any milk, cheese or butter.

    Of course I would say this because I am an advocate of Paleo….but I am interested to know why dairy has a place on your food pyramid, given my example above.

  2. Dr. Scott says

    Great Question Methuselah!

    I have to say that I on the fence with dairy foods; let me explain:

    On one hand, a lot of people are allergic to dairy and, it is, as you say, mostly a processed food that requires tools to create.

    On the other hand, dairy is a good balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat (therefore, good at keeping our blood sugars in check) and dairy protein also has a high biological value (containing a good quantity of many different essential and non-essential amino acids).

    Essentially I choose to include dairy as a food choice because it helps some people navigate what I call “Carbo-Land” or our modern world – were the vast majority food choices are grains and sugars. Is dairy the best choice to make when considering what to eat? The answer is no. But is it better than grains, sugars and other processed foods? That answer is yes.

    By the way, I really like your blog!

    Dr. Scott

  3. Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later says

    Thanks Dr Scott – that makes sense. I am a pragmatist myself so I understand where you are coming from. I happen to be mildly intolerant to dairly myself which is what started me down this road of food group exclusion in the early days but there’s no doubt that dairy represents the least of all evils in that regard. Indeed I saw a post on Conditioning Research recently talking about milk’s potential post-workout benefits:


    Milk: the new sports drink? A Review.

    Glad you enjoyed my blog. Swing by anytime!

  4. Tom Parker says

    Good post Dr Scott. Admittedly I do still eat a relatively high level of grain based products. However, I have made sure those that I do eat are of the healthier wholemeal variety. I have also started adding a lot more vegetables to my evening meals and cut down on the amount of pasta, rice etc that I eat with them. I’ve also managed to cut out grains from the majority of my breakfasts opting instead for a protein shake, banana or both.

  5. Dr. Scott says

    Tom,

    I agree, we all start were we can. Kicking grains out of our diet is especially hard because of the addictive nature of sugars and foods that act like sugar in our bodies.

    I do suggest that people who decide to eat grains eat them as we eat rice: whole and boiled.

    It looks like your blog is also helping to spread the word about good diet and fitness!

    Thank you for your comment!

    Dr. Scott

  6. Chris says

    Thanks for all the comments.

    @ Tom: I would say dropping grains is easier than it seems….Once you drop grains you will not only feel far better but your body composition will reflect the change. If you are doing long duration cardio or something like running/playing a load of sports its best to re-stock your muscles with sweet potatoes and wild rice/quinoa rather than breads and pasta. They contain far more vitamins and minerals, take your body longer to process plus they aren’t an allergen like the gluten in pasta and wheat products…..

  7. Jeff says

    I second Chris on this. I felt better within a week of dropping the grain based carbs. I actually ate a cookie and a doughnut a couple of weeks ago and felt awful the very next day. You will feel so much better following this pyramid that you won’t look back and will be surprised you hadn’t done it earlier.

    Chris,

    Thanks for posting. Very good and helpful to me.

    jeff

  8. Dirk says

    Thanx for the great post.

    Where do potatos fit inside your pyramid? In classic Germany kitchen potatos are the basic addition to meat and vegetables and come in different formes (boiled, fried…). Some put them in the same category as pasta because of their starches, others count them as vegetables because of their other healthy ingredients. What is your opinion?

    Greetings from Germany,
    Dirk

  9. Grok says

    I love reading this blog. This was a great guest post.

    Kids are smart. They know what to eat. It’s not rocket science. As we get older we get brainwashed.

    About 7 months ago my personal pyramid looked a lot like Dr. Olson’s (minus the grains), but the longer I’ve been paleo based my body has been gravitating more to meat. I don’t know if you guys put any stock in metabolic typing, but when I finally learned my type, I had already naturally gravitated towards the foods that were recommended to me.

    Here’s my new food pyramid:
    http://castlegrok.com/how-paleo-is-your-diet/

Trackbacks

  1. [...] The book starts with a few real life situations of how sugar affects the body and how easily we can compare sugar to cigarettes; back in the days when cigarettes first came into style they were conveyed as something fashionable and healthy and even endorsed by doctors, this all took a U-turn when many many years later we realized that they were a leading killer in our society. This is somewhat similar to what is happening with sugar now, how long will it take until we look back at the “Low Fat” diets which are endorsed by the medical industry now and realize how we were causing a vicious circle of Diabetes and Cancer. Maybe soon the Government will realize the food pyramid is upside down….. [...]

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