The United States Department of Agriculture devised the Food Guide Pyramid in 1992, to help individuals make healthier decisions about what to eat and, consequently, to reduce the prevalence of lifestyle-related diseases. The Pyramid presents complex carbohydrates as the basis of a healthy diet, suggesting that individuals should consume 6-11 servings daily. It also suggests little to no consumption of fats and oils. In 2003, a seminal work by Willett and Stampfer, published in Scientific American, revealed that the Food Guide Pyramid is largely flawed. Their work, entitled “Rebuilding the Food Pyramid,” is based on extensive evidence that shows the failings of the original Food Guide Pyramid. It argued that not all fats are bad for you – some fats can even reduce your chance of cardiovascular disease – and not all carbohydrates are good for you. This paved the way for the new guidance system, “My Plate,” which officially replaced the Food Guide Pyramid in 2005. My Plate presents the essential food groups as parts of a place setting, to clearly illustrate the ideal portion sizes of essential food groups required to make up a healthy meal. Although the My Plate campaign has been running for over two years, the Food Guide Pyramid has shaped food-related decisions for over a decade. Its messages about “healthy eating” were endorsed by governments, taught in schools, and were so well received that they continue to inform many food-related decisions made by parents and kids today.
Healthy decision-making in regards to food is also complicated by insinuations made by food labels and false assumptions made by shoppers when reading such phrases as “low fat” or “light.” It is often assumed that “low fat” is the healthy opinion, when in fact the low fat option may have a slightly reduced fat content but a much higher sugar or salt content. This is compounded when manufacturers market a product to be both low in fat and convenient. This is often the case with breakfast bars, which are perceived to be healthy but are actually highly processed and high in sugar. In consideration of this, we recommend that parents read the nutritional information of these products before they purchase, and consider the kilojoules in the product. Parents should remember that an average daily intake of 8700 kilojoules is recommended. Most importantly, parents should choose less processed options if possible, as less processed foods are generally more nutritious.
The recommendations made by the Food Guide Pyramid may be partially to blame for today’s childhood obesity crisis, as is the marketing of food perceived to be healthy, through phrases like “low fat.” We would love to hear your thoughts on this issue! Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.