Why the Food Pyramid Got It All Wrong

It's time to throw the old rules out the window.

February 25, 2016
food pyramid
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During the 1970s, when it became evident obesity and heart disease were increasing, some concerned, well-meaning politicians held hearings about how to best advise Americans about diet, health, and preventing heart disease.

Unfortunately, these same studies helped form recommendations listed in the dietary goals. Among its findings, the report urged Americans to increase their carbohydrate intake to 55 to 60 percent of their total daily calories. Equally bad were recommendations to cut way back on saturated fats from meat, eggs, butter, and whole milk. 

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More: 50 Foods You Should Never Eat

Rather than consume these so-called bad saturated fats, we were told to eat low-fat foods like skim milk. We were told to replace saturated fats in animal products with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats from vegetable oils.

From that low-fat craze came the government's Food Guide Pyramid in 1992. No surprise: At the base were carbohydrates, particularly refined carbohydrates like breads, pasta, rice, and cereals, of which we were told to eat six to 11 servings.

These carbohydrates break down to sugar, which stores in your body as fat. In addition to the 152 pounds of sugar we eat yearly, we're getting 146 pounds of flour that also break down to sugar. Altogether, that's nearly a pound of sugar daily for every American!

More: 8 Healthy Takes on Food Trends

Among its havoc, those refined carbs creates inflammation, which triggers most chronic diseases including diabetes and obesity (or what I call "diabesity") as well as heart disease. Equally flawed was the very top (smallest part) of the Food Pyramid, which advised consuming fats and oils sparingly. 

The food industry jumped right on board with these dietary guidelines and their low-fat craze, creating everything from low-fat salad dressing to fat-free yogurt to low-fat desserts. 

While a slight improvement at best, MyPlate (our government's new, "improved" educational food icon) still advised a low-fat diet. Our government just can't seem to let that one go, despite the flawed research and the scientific evidence proving that healthy fats are the way to go.

 

More: 15 Foods That Help You Lose Weight

Instead of following the outdated, clearly wrong advice from the old Food Pyramid, you want to eat a whole foods diet with mostly veggies, some fruits, and plenty of healthy fats like eggs, and coconut oil, olive oil and even grass-fed butter. One thing I do admire about the Food Pyramid is its simplicity. If I designed a food pyramid, I would keep it equally simple by providing the following five strategies:

1. Eat real food
Avoid highly processed, factory-manufactured Frankenfoods. Choose fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and lean animal proteins such as fish, chicken, and eggs.

2. Eat plenty of healthy fat
That includes plenty of wild-caught fish, nuts and seeds, grass-fed beef, and avocado.

3. Manage stress levels
Chronic stress makes you fat, tired, and miserable. Find something that works for you and do it. That might be yoga, meditation, or deep breathing. 

More: 7 Dieting Myths BUSTED

4. Be active
Even 30 minutes' vigorous walking can help. Here are seven reasons exercise becomes so important for weight loss and overall health.

5. Get great sleep
Lack of sleep or poor sleep damages your metabolism, causes cravings for sugar and carbs, makes you eat more, and drives up your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and early death. Learn to unplug from your smartphones and tablets, because artificial light can disrupt sleep.

The U.S. dietary guidelines fall way short. To understand more about why dietary fat got demonized and why the right fats support optimal health, check out Eat Fat, Get Thin

 

In my new book, I provide you with the tools you need to stay happy and healthy for life while eating truly delicious and satisfying foods.

I've also created a Q&A video on fat. Here are just some of the questions I answer in this video:
1. If it's not fat, what is the true cause of heart disease, diabetes, and disease?
2. How can we differentiate between good and bad fats?
3. Is butter really good for you?
4. And how did we get into this big, fat mess?

Check out the video here

Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, M.D.