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 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.
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.