How The Food Guide Pyramid Can Make You Fat In 2011.

When food politics and science collide, we end up with the Food Guide Pyramid which is now known as MyPyramid. It's the government's best attempt at giving one mass nutrition prescription that fits the entire nation (an impossible task).
Article Summary:
  • MyPyramid is an attempt at giving one mass nutrition program that fits the entire nation.
  • It includes tools targeted to specific groups, such as pregnant women and children.
  • The MyPyramid guide is not specific when it comes to quantities of each food group.

How the Food Guide Pyramid Can Make You Fat in 2011

When food politics and science collide, we end up with the Food Guide Pyramid which is now known as MyPyramid. It's the government's best attempt at giving one mass nutrition prescription that fits the entire nation (an impossible task). And though they do pretty well in some areas, this arduous task is clouded by the fact that the goal of MyPyramid isn't maximum health but instead teaching the masses what they should eat on a daily basis.

And, given that everyone comes from different education levels and nutrition knowledge, it is critical that MyPyramid is both easy to understand and pretty basic. This isn't the place for complex nutrition messages. And, while there are many great messages in MyPyramid, there are some that could be tightened up, made better or completely scraped altogether.


What Is The Food Guide MyPyramid?

The history of the Food Guide Pyramid dates back almost a century ago. And, the most recent MyPyramid, developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with support from the Department of Health and Human Services, is considered a food guidance system that is based on a plethora of scientific research.

The Goal Of MyPyramid Isn't Maximum Health But Instead Teaching The Masses What They Should Eat On A Daily Basis
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The Goal Of MyPyramid Isn't Maximum Health But Instead Teaching
The Masses What They Should Eat On A Daily Basis.


The Good

People that constantly complain about the government's recommendations and MyPyramid really need to actually examine it, read about it and realize who the audience is and consider the goals of this massive education program. One of the best things about the MyPyramid is the number of interactive tools and information on the website.

Some of these tools include a menu planner, information for specific audiences including kids and pregnant women, links to apps, information for parents, information for professionals and so much more. You can even analyze your diet with one of the interactive tools on this site.

Another great point about MyPyramid is the person running up the side of it - noting the fact that physical activity is vital for weight management. Society gets more technology savvy every year and while this may be good for business and communication, it sucks for our waistlines.

Another Great Point About MyPyramid Is The Person Running Up The Side Of It, Noting The Fact That Physical Activity Is Vital For Weight Management
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A Great Point About MyPyramid Is The Person Running Up The Side Of It, Noting The Fact That Physical Activity Is Vital For Weight Management.

Why push a vacuum around your house when you can hire a maid? Or heck, just get the cool new robotic vacuum and chill out on your couch with a bag of chips. That coworker you can't stand? No need to actually burn a few calories walking over to his desk when you can email or instant message him. After all, avoiding someone while still communicating with them out of sheer necessity has never been so easy.

As a whole, our nation doesn't exercise enough nor do we get enough movement during the day - activities of daily living like walking, taking the stairs, or gardening.

A few other great concepts depicted in MyPyramid (and the literature that goes with it):

  • Fruits and vegetables are emphasized. These are your antioxidant rich, fiber packed, anti-aging foods. From eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration to cardiovascular disease, if you want to stay healthy and look good, eat a lot of fruits and vegetables.
  • The concept of discretionary calories has been added. Now granted, you won't get this concept by just looking at theMyPyramid but, one can't say everything with a picture alone.

    Discretionary calories refers to extra calories that you can fit into your calorie budget if you've eaten all of the foods you need for good health but you still have some calories left over. They even tell you that most people have a small discretionary calorie budget of just 100-300 calories.

  • Another thing I love about MyPyramid is the One Size Doesn't Fit all statement on the very first page which then points you to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (which will be updated very soon).

    Our government recognizes the fact that we can't make blanket recommendations that fit everyone. Our needs vary tremendously so, use this as a general backbone for what you should eat and alter it based on your needs.

    Keep this in mind because some people need more or need supplements to prevent or delay the onset of a variety of diseases and conditions.


The Bad

Now, here's what you've been waiting for right? You wanted me to take down this massive government program and tell you what is so awful about it. Well, to start off with, on first glance it is totally confusing. I remember the first time I saw the colors I thought "where's the food and why are some colors large and others small." The bands are hard to correlate to diet.

Okay so I'm supposed to kind of look at a day and eat about the same amount of vegetables as I do grains but one third the amount of meat/beans as grains? How on earth do I visualize that and, I thought beans were good for me? Are they not as good as grains? There's plenty of room for misinterpretation...

I'm Supposed To Eat About The Same Amount Of Vegetables As I Do Grains But One Third The Amount Of Meat/Beans As Grains. How Do I Visualize That?
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I'm Supposed To Eat About The Same Amount Of Vegetables As I Do Grains But One Third The Amount Of Meat/Beans As Grains.

Secondly, even when you go to the descriptions many people don't know what ounces are. Three ounces of whole grain bread? Talk to me in slices, not ounces. I deal with food all the time and I can't tell you what 3 ounces of bread looks like. A few other points that need clarification or all out editing:

  • Eat more.... MyPyramid tells us to eat more fruits and vegetables. What is "more"? After years of coaching people to make changes on their diet, I can tell you the concept of more is way to vague and leaves no yardstick to measure current intake against.
  • If you attempt to make a personalized plan, you'll be knocked if you are out of the normal weight range. So if you have muscle, quite a bit of muscle, steer clear of letting this part of the program judge you and tell you that you are overweight.
  • They need to translate this website into additional languages to better represent more Americans who don't read English (or Spanish - the only language they translate this to) as clearly as their first language.
  • There is nothing for the elderly - a group that literally soaks up information to help them feel better and maintain good health as they age. They should have something under Specific Audiences that talks about the different dietary needs for the elderly and key nutrients of concern.
  • They should have more information on nutrition throughout the lifespan. To get to this information you need to click on MyPyramid then click on "how much is needed" on the right and a popup box will appear giving guidelines for different age groups (take note that 51+ is as high as they go).


The Questionable

So how can you get fat off the government? And no I'm not talking about a stimulus package here. As a bodybuilding.com reader, I know you won't misinterpret MyPyramid and you'll be able to use it as a general structure to follow.

However, there are many, many people out there who simply don't get the difference between filling foods versus those that add calories but keep them hungry (well they do but only under Steps for a Healthy Weight). And, MyPyramid does not clearly and strongly differentiate between whole grains and enriched grains, whole fruit and fruit juice and dried fruits, nor does it allow for adequate protein intake to minimize muscle loss with aging and help people build new muscle.

MyPyramid Does Not Clearly And Strongly Differentiate Between Whole Grains And Enriched Grains
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MyPyramid Does Not Clearly And Strongly Differentiate Between Whole Grains And Enriched Grains.

Combined, these factors could, over a period of years, add up to poor body composition and a diet that doesn't feed your metabolic machinery. In addition, there's no mention (not that I could find anyway) about spreading your protein intake up throughout the day to keep your muscle tissue well fed (this is extremely important as we age and for those people on lower calorie diets in an attempt to lose weight).

I've seen one too many frustrated adults cut their calorie intake without meeting their nutrient (and protein) needs and they end up stagnant in their weight loss efforts. Their bodies get used to a lower calorie diet, they start losing muscle tissue and they are only marginally active because they can't fuel their exercise program.

Lastly, though it would be great if people at in ounce equivalents and could measure stuff, most eat mixed dishes that make it difficult to quantify the amount of protein, grains and fat they are consuming. But again, MyPyramid is a guideline and includes a number of tools you can use to figure out your own diet. Overall, there are many great resources on this site including tips for weight management.

You just need to spend some time searching and reading the wealth of information compiled. And, even when you are done, if you really want to maximize your health and perform better in life and in your sport of choice, you should keep tabs on your own health, constantly read and ask questions and seek out professionals who can help you change your diet to meet your needs. Because after all, One Size Never Fits All.

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