Is the Food Pyramid Still Valid?

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The cartoon drawings of the USDA’s Food Pyramid were as much a part of the 1990’s as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Transformers. However, unlike many staples of the decade, the 1992 dietary guide is no longer revered. For years after it’s release, nutritionists and doctors scratched their heads at the pyramid’s recommendations. Finally, after 13 years, the Food Pyramid was officially retired in 2005. In 2011, following a failed pyramid redesign, MyPlate was introduced as a replacement.

Food pyramid isolated on white background

Where did the food pyramid go wrong?

Like the ancient pyramids of Egypt, much can be learned from the past. Where did the Food Pyramid go wrong? And can we be certain MyPlate is getting it right? Is the concept of a basic nutritional guideline even a good idea in the first place? These are all important questions being tackled by conscious eaters everywhere.

The Food Pyramid has several flaws, the first being an overemphasis on grains. In recent years, gluten has been realized as the source of a lot of dietary problems. That’s not to say gluten is inherently bad, but it does mean that not everyone needs to be consuming the suggested amount of whole grains every day. Even prior to the gluten discoveries that have taken place in the past decade, the Food Pyramid calls for high carb, low fat foods.

The lack of emphasis on “use sparingly”

There are good fats that your body needs on a daily basis (there are also good/bad proteins and good/bad carbohydrates), but you’ll find them towards the top of the pyramid accompanied by the words “use sparingly.” Olive oil, nuts and seeds are all examples of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that are extremely healthy for you.

Both the Food Pyramid and MyPlate call for hefty servings of grains. The proportions are healthier with MyPlate, such as more vegetables than fruit (the Food Pyramid had them equal), however there are still flaws. Just as the food pyramid suggested dairy as a mainstay in the average diet, so does MyPlate.

The recommended daily consumption of dairy may not be such a good idea, suggests Dr. Mark Hyman. Promises of strong bones are largely overhyped, Hyman writes, and taking calcium supplements or increasing your Vitamin D intake are healthier ways of strengthening bones without all the negative elements of dairy. That’s not even describing the sizeable portion of the population that is lactose intolerant, who certainly shouldn’t be drinking milk every day.

The food pyramid infographic with food icons and categories, health tips at bottom

Balance is key

Both the Food Pyramid and MyPlate are designed as guides for the general populations, so they were never meant to be the ultimate authority on what you should eat every day. One healthy idea they do promote is balance, which is crucial to any kind of healthy diet. The concept of a general guide is a tricky proposition in the first place, one that comes with detrimental shortcomings.

The argument in favor of a general guide such as the Food Pyramid or MyPlate is to provide a baseline understanding for those that are entirely unaware of what a healthy diet should look like. In a country littered with fast food and prepped meals, chipping away at ignorance of all kinds is a worthwhile endeavor. Still, those efforts should be accompanied by further education on a subject so nuanced as dietary habits. 

MyPlate infographic

Nutritional guidelines can, and should, shift with personal aspirations and health-related needs. Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist if you think you may have an allergy or intolerance and adapt your diet accordingly. Each individual has different needs and demands based on numerous factors, but it’s important to keep in mind that supplements can help and that balance is good. So no matter what kind of shape your diet is, or what kind of shape you’re in, there’s always room for improvement and continued education when it comes to being healthy.

A healthy diet is extremely important, but it is still difficult to get all of the nutrients you need.  Stay on top of your nutrition with WellPath nutritional solutions so you can stay healthy and reach your goals.

About Zac Howard

Zac Howard is a writer on The Path Editorial Team. He is a graduate of Florida State University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in magazine journalism at NYU. With his passion for lifting and dieting, Zac enjoys writing about all different kinds of exercise as well as keeping up with the latest news in the world of fitness. For more of his work, visit his website.

About Zac Howard

Zac Howard is a writer on The Path Editorial Team. He is a graduate of Florida State University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in magazine journalism at NYU. With his passion for lifting and dieting, Zac enjoys writing about all different kinds of exercise as well as keeping up with the latest news in the world of fitness. In addition to his contributions on The Path, he is a fitness beat writer for NYU Magazine. For more of his work, visit NYUMag.com.