The original food pyramid was invented to educate the average consumer on healthy eating to attempt to slow down the increase of convenience food related lifestyle diseases. In that respect, and even to this day, the packaged and quick-fix food market plays straight into the hands of the pharmaceutical industry. But as with most scientific re-creations of an older concept, the original message itself does not stand the test of time as updated research and theories come to the fore to disprove them, although the pyramid idea itself continued due to the simplicity of the message it gives: basically the wider the section the more of the food contents you should eat, and so on.
This blog will demonstrate how heathy food pyramids have changed over the decades, the results of which display a very interesting comparison of the understanding of health between ‘then’ and ‘now’.
The Original 1992 Food Pyramid
Contrary to current day beliefs, the largest part of this pyramid contains grains, yet the main issue with this is that it does not differentiate between whole grains and white/refined grains. Refined grains are white in colour because the shell has been stripped out which ultimately removes the necessary nutrients and leaves only the starchy content. We speak of empty calories when we discuss white grains nowadays, along with a lack of real nutrition, bloating, constipation, digestive health problems and their over-acidifying of the body.
This pyramid puts all fats at the top and places meat into the same category as beans, nuts and seeds. Today though we know that exchanging meat for beans, seeds and nuts is sure to promote a healthy heart.
The 1992 pyramid instructed that we should have the same amount of dairy and vegetables to be healthy, albeit three portions of dairy to be the upper limit and three portions of vegetable to be the lower limit.
As the packaged food industry carried on, lifestyle diseases continued to rise and nutritional research developed showing that this pyramid was clearly not accurate and that a new version was needed.
The Harvard Amended Pyramid
The Harvard food pyramid amends a number of mistakes in the old pyramid, for example it now makes the difference between refined grains and whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and tofu replace the meat category and dairy features specifically as a calcium option with a reduced 1-2 portions.
The main question which remains over this pyramid is the inclusion of white refined bread, albeit at the top of the pyramid. It is believed that white bread remained to keep the status quo and to ensure it did not alienate the overall population who would no doubt be used to eating in a specific, convenience style which would include white bread over brown.
Slowly gluten intolerance became an epidemic with more and more people believing that breads, and gluten in particular, caused digestive upsets. One of the biggest issues nowadays is that the integrity of the grains used has became compromised after generations of mass farming as well as price pressures reducing the quality of the soil and the seed used, and all this is due to our ever increasing demand for convenience food.
The pyramid also still included meat in small quantities, and despite hypertension and heart diseases being on the rise, to this day, most supermarkets (with the exception of Waitrose) are unfazed about whether their animal products are grown with genetically modified feed or not (For more information on this go to:www.genewatch.org)
This pyramid also includes recreational drugs such as alcohol and vitamin supplements. Yet it unwisely leaves the maximum amount of alcohol consumed down to personal discretion and fails to clarify whether the vitamins must be grown by nature and therefore have better bio-availability and recognition by the body, or if synthetically made versions by chemical companies in laboratories are just as appropriate.
So, as the convenience food industry developed it became apparent that lifestyle diseases failed to decrease and of course nutritional research developed and showed that this pyramid was inaccurate and that yet again a new pyramid was needed.
Fast forward to 2014 and we are now in desperate need of a healthy food pyramid which promises to deliver health in abundance as lifestyle-caused diseases such as heart disease, liver disease and diabetes continue to develop at a terrifying pace.
Raw Food Pyramid
A third and most recent version of our healthy food pyramid is the ‘raw food pyramid’ which promotes the consumption of raw foods. To raw food enthusiasts, this means not cooking food above 48 degrees centigrade.
There is no room for keeping the status quo in the latest recreation – it is purely about becoming and remaining healthy – no white grains and alcohol in sight! This version includes the non-irradiation of imported foods such as dried food, herbs and nuts because for some reason (mainly for the manufacturers to be able to store these foods with dairy and meat), radiation of dried food has become common, although you will not be told this on the label – but I think you should know!
It includes non-genetically modified plant products such as maize, and vegetable oils and it does not advocate animal products but instead maximises the importance of plant based protein sources.
Finally, for the first time in the history of food pyramids it includes herbs, which are incredibly important for the maintenance of health. Moreover, those who appreciate top quality taste to their meals, herbs have been essential to flavoursome, gourmet dishes for centuries.
Nutritional advice in the form of pyramid’s has evolved alongside the packaged food industry as a way to offer an easy to understand healthy eating concept. It seems that despite this, we have failed to take on the healthy options with quite so much vigour as the convenience options, which means that over the years we have begun to take the quality of our food for granted.
We cannot possibly imagine the dietary changes we, and the next generations, are getting used to, yet nutrition is a learned behaviour and we need to get back to basics. Sadly though change is not easily achieved due to the addictive nature of foods, especially salty, sweet and fatty convenience foods. But the first step is often the hardest, so take a look through the list of pyramids above and decide which you are following and what strategies could you use from them to upgrade your nutrition by just one notch.
Sonja Breuer is a qualified professional health coach & nutritionist with MSc degree in health promotion from a UK university. She transforms diets and lifestyles, helping people to harness health, wellbeing and happiness.
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