Whenever I do a nutrition talk I usually start with the ‘Food Pyramid’ because it’s really where everything went all wrong. I point out to the audience that our nutrition authorities recommend eating 8 – 11 servings of grains per day, the equivalent to 22 slices of bread… This always gets a laugh. So, it’s with sadness that I have to retire this gag, as our good friends at Nutrition Australia have acted on the science and public pressure and updated the infamous Food Pyramid.
The old food pyramid: This is not a joke.
This upgraded version of our dietary guidelines is definitely a step forward in our understanding and came from our nutritional authorities in order to “combat growing nutrition confusion and risky fad diets” – interesting as a ‘fad diet’ would suggest something short lived and based on little evidence, yet they’ve been promoting grains and vegetable oils for 30 years. Many, including me would consider this as a fad and definitely risky!
Anyway, moving on: My take on Food Pyramid 2.0:
Vegetables get more air time.
Vegetables are the common ground on all diets… Veganism, paleoism, primalism, LCHFism, we all agree that we need more vegetables. It’s good to see this as the focus.
Herbs and Spices get some love.
These are highly nutritious and can be easily added to any meal to bulk up the nutrition…. Think of it as your multivitamin.
There’s no junk food:
In the past, junk food got put in the enjoy sometimes category that gave rise to the ‘everything in moderation’ movement. I always wondered whether eating junk food in ‘moderation’ is a good thing..
‘Healthy’ fats get a mention.
Brave one from NA with healthy fats gaining popularity over the years as they’ve included avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds. I still feel we deserve an apology for the ‘low fat’ messages of the past 30 years.
Margarine is out.
Thank God. I think an apology is necessary here as well.
Water is recommended.
Can’t argue with that, though I do think that it’s weird that we need the recommendation to drink water.
It’s still a ‘low fat’ diet.
Yes, it includes sexy fats like avocado and almonds, but on the whole this pyramid is low fat. Fats, particularly the saturated ones (butter, meat, eggs, coconut oil) are not the bad guy and never were. For more on this read “Why I Smothered My Steak With Butter.”
Polyunsaturated fats are still the good guy.
There’s something sexy about polyunsaturated fats that I’ll never understand. I get that almonds and olive oil are awesome, but when you’re pushing canola oil, vegetable oils or soybean oil then there’s a problem. These fats are chemically unstable and oxidise easily, leading to inflammation and an omega 6 cascade.
Okay, I get that this was probably put in for our vegan or dairy intolerant friends, but I don’t think that soy should be considered part of a healthy diet. There’s nothing healthy about soy milk as it’s highly processed and often contains strange additives, I don’t see how this is part of a healthy diet.
Grains are still being promoted.
Okay, we’ve improved in terms of 8 – 11 servings per day, but Nutrition Australia is still digging grains. Yes, they put in the ‘whole grain’ caveat, but it doesn’t change the fact that most grains are highly processed and nutritionally poor – more of this in my next blog post.
This upgrade says a lot more than what’s in the pyramid. To me, it says to the lunatic fringe in the paleo, real food, autoimmune community “fine, we’ll meet halfway.” No, it doesn’t include nutritious organ meats or delve into food quality, but at least it’s including stuff that we agree on like fruits and vegetables, and limits refined carbohydrates.
All this positivity aside, I can’t help but think that the Food Pyramid has created more problems than it’s solved…. Since it’s induction it’s created a whole heap of problems (grains, margarine, sugar) and is now trying to rectify the problems with the same pyramid. I can’t help but think that we need a different approach to eating… And maybe authorities telling us exactly what to eat isn’t the best way to go about it?? Maybe an “Australia, eat real food” tagline would be more effective. Brazil takes a whole different scope to the healthy eating thing, and instead of a regimented ‘eat this, eat that’ style, they opt for holistic guidelines that go far beyond calories:
Some highlights of Brazil’s dietary guidelines
1. They go beyond calories.
Believing that there’s much more to food than calories, Brazil emphasises food quality more than quantity. Minimally processed, locally grown food is emphasised as they recommend a diet that’s dense in nutrients, not just low in calories.
2. They Define Processed Foods
“Eat natural and minimally processed foods…. Natural foods are those obtained from plants or animals.” That single piece of advice could stop the next 100 diet books from being published.
3. They value the social, environmental and cultural aspect behind food.
“Humans are social beings. Eating together is ingrained in human history…. Prefer to eat in clean, quiet, and comfortable places encourage attention to the act of eating mindfully and slowly, enable meals to be fully appreciated, and decrease overeating.” I love this, and it’s something that’s missing in our understanding about nutrition as we desperately choke down multivitamins. Taking the time to soak in the experience is something that we can benefit from.
4. They dig into ‘ultra processed’ food.
Not only do they go through the sugar and trans fat deal with processed food, but they talk about the affect that fast food imports are having on Brazil’s culture and way of life. They discuss the social damage of fast food; “ultra processed foods are eaten anytime, these are mostly isolated situations, which are disguised by advertisements suggesting that such products promote social interaction, which they do not.”
5. They place emphasis on the environmental impact of food production
I love this part. Brazil’s holistic thinking means that they consider the footprint that our food choices are having on the planet. They recommend choosing fresh, locally produced food and avoid eating animals from factory farms…. Not only does this have a positive impact on your health, but also the planet.
You can read Brazil’s entire dietary guidelines here. It’s a great insight into their culture and thought process.
Thanks for reading, and remember to JERF!
Steve is a personal trainer, health coach, and owner of Barefoot Health. He’s currently studying Functional Diagnostic Nutrition and Chiropractic at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia.