Harvard Nutritionist Says
USDA 'Food Pyramid' Is Wrong
by Tom Hargrove,
PlanetRice Editor-in-Chief

The famous "food pyramid," considered almost holy by many nutritionists and dieters, is wrong and hurts both waistlines and health, claims Dr. Walter Willett, a leading U.S. nutrition researcher, in his new book Eat, Drink and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating (Simon & Schuster, US$25).
The pyramid, developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1992, advises daily consumption of six to 11 servings of bread, cereal, rice, and pasta; two to three servings of meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts; and sparing consumption of fats, oils, and sweets.
The food pyramid is published widely across the United States. It's printed on cereal boxes and bread wrappers, posted on elementary school bulletin boards, and published in university textbooks.
It's also known globally. The USA Rice Federation distributes the food pyramid, for example, through its promotion of U.S. rice in Mexico.
But the food pyramid is outdated and doesn't reflect the latest food research, says Willett, chairman of the Nutrition Department at Harvard University, in a July 26 feature in USA Today.
Willett claims that his new food pyramid offers a longer, and better, life.
Furthermore, the USDA food pyramid serves the interests of its main client, the U.S. agricultural industry, Willett claims.
In Chapter 1 Willett, a long-time critic of the pyramid, writes, "The thing to keep in mind about the USDA Pyramid is that it comes from the [U.S.] Department of Agriculture, the agency responsible for promoting American agriculture, not from agencies established to monitor and protect our health, like the Department of Health and Human Services, or the National Institutes of Health, or the Institute of Medicine.
"And there's the root of the problem--what's good for some agricultural interests isn't necessarily good for the people who eat their products.
"Serving two masters is tricky business, especially when one of them includes persuasive and well-connected representatives of the formidable meat, dairy, and sugar industries. The end result of their tug-of-war is a set of positive, feel-good, all- inclusive recommendations that completely distort what could be the single most important tool for improving your health and the health of the nation.
"At best, the USDA Pyramid offers indecisive, scientifically unfounded advice on an absolutely vital topic--what to eat. At worst, the misinformation it offers contributes to overweight, poor health, and unnecessary early deaths."
USA Today reported that a startling 61% of U.S. citizens weigh too much, and about 26% are obese-30 pounds or more over a healthy weight.
Willett says that the USDA pyramid puts too much emphasis on red meat and lumps too many types of carbohydrates together. The pyramid gives too little emphasis to nuts, beans, and healthy oils, which have positive health effects.
Willett's alternative, the Healthy Eating Pyramid, has daily exercise and weight control at the base, and recommends eating whole grains like brown rice at most meals.
It also emphasizes eating plant oils like olive, canola, and soy, and suggests eating lots of vegetables and gives fish, poultry, and eggs a higher profile than red meat.
USDA had no comment on Willett's new book or his pyramid, USA Today reported.
USDA designed the pyramid as an easy way to show the groups of foods that make up a good diet, and how much of the different groups one needs to stay healthy.
It is in a pyramid shape, rather than a circle or square, to explain the different proportions of foods to one another. The foods that make up the base, or widest part of the pyramid, should be the largest part of a diet. As one goes up the pyramid, the amounts get smaller as the pyramid apexes.
To read Chapter 1 of Eat, Drink and Be Healthy, click on, the Simon & Schuster web site, in PlanetRice links below.


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