The food pyramid was a tool commonly used over the last few decades to teach nutrition and servings, but studies are showing that the food pyramid is actually wrong. Study after study comparing low-fat to low-carb diets have found that a low-carb/ketogenic diet is better for weight loss, insulin sensitivity, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels than a low-fat diet. Here’s what’s wrong with the food pyramid and how you can change your diet and health.
Carbohydrates initially made up the base of the food pyramid, suggesting that carbohydrates should make up a higher proportion of a person’s daily nutritional intake. From 1980 to 2000, the food pyramid essentially supported the consumption of carbohydrates to maintain total daily calories while reducing the total intake of fat. These guidelines actually resulted in an increase in total calorie and carbohydrate intake without any substantial reductions in fat intake. During this time period, the United States experienced an obesity epidemic.1
Studies show that restricting carbohydrate intake to no more than 30 grams per day without restrictions on fat intake to be more effective than a low-fat diet at supporting weight loss, insulin sensitivity, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.5-7
Therefore, carbohydrates should actually be placed closer to the top of the pyramid. Carbohydrates actually get broken down into sugars (which themselves are already at the top of the food pyramid).
When consuming carbohydrates opt for whole grains to increase the amount of time it takes for carbohydrates to break down into sugars.
For similar reasons, dairy products should also be rearranged and divided as well. Milk and other liquid dairy products should be considered a sugary drink. Consider a glass of milk, which is high in calcium and other nutrients but still presents a high amount of sugar. A 12-fluid ounce glass of milk contains about 19.5 grams of lactose sugar. A can of soda, also roughly 12 fluid ounces, contains about 30 grams of sugar. That means that a glass of milk has about two-thirds the amount of sugar as a can of soda.
Keep an eye on yogurts as well as they can also have more added sugar. Plain and Greek yogurts tend to be healthier because they contain less added sugars.
Healthy Fats and Oils
The original food pyramid placed fats and oils closer to the top, just under sweets. In reality, fats and oils play an integral part to your overall health. Other healthy fats that can be eaten with less concern are fish oils as well as polyunsaturated oils like olive oil. Nuts and fatty fruits like avocadoes can also be consumed with less concern. Nuts have high-fat content and high energy but are helpful in increasing satiety, the sense of fullness.
In a meta-analysis, researchers aimed to determine the effects of nut consumption on hunger, energy intake, and fullness or satiety. Using data from 31 trials that passed the eligibility process, researchers determined that eating nuts was associated with hunger suppression without affecting weight or sense of fullness.
However, nuts increased energy intake in overweight and obese individuals. The meta-analysis concluded that nut consumption may be associated with reduced hunger without any effects on weight or fullness.2
Salty foods in general should be eaten sparingly. Along with its potential contribution to weight gain, excess salt intake can:
- Increase blood pressure
- Tax and overwork the kidneys
- Trigger headaches in some people
One of the most critical flaws with the food pyramid is that it does not take into account the effects of processing on foods. Processing often comprises using added sugar and sodium, along with low-nutrition, junk food components. This makes these foods easier to absorb, contributing to weight gain, while also resulting in very little actual nutritional value.
Take an apple and its more processed version apple juice. Apples are naturally high in fiber and a wide range of vitamins and minerals essential to your general health and well being. Apple juice is often highly processed, which results in the removal of fiber and all those essential nutrients. You are left unsatisfied with high cravings for more. The added sodium in apple juice also results in spikes in blood sugar and insulin.
This goes into the biggest problem with the food pyramid: it doesn’t take into account the details. It does not consider processed foods, refined grains, or your choice of protein. The food pyramid categorizes all fats into a singular box without providing any guidelines for unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids as good for your health.3
It should be noted that the food pyramid was originally introduced in the United States in 1992 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an entity mostly concerned with the country’s agriculture, not with maintaining and protecting human health.4 The food pyramid ignored scientific evidence of the time, and much of the information it spread has since been proven false.
The best way to make healthier choices in your life is to be mindful of your dietary choices, especially when it comes to consuming sugar and processed foods. Keep all the above points in mind for a healthier, happier life.