The New Food Pyramid Has Been Updated And It's A Step In The Right Direction But There’s Still A Way To Go!
Nutrition Australia this week updated its iconic Healthy Eating Pyramid for the first time in 15 years purportedly in an effort to “combat growing nutrition confusion and risky fad diets.”
The new pyramid recommends eating from six core food groups every day: 1. vegetables and legumes, 2. fruit, 3. grains, 4. dairy products, 5. meat, eggs, nuts and seeds, and 6. healthy fats. It also encourages enjoying herbs and spices, drinking water and limiting added salt and sugar.
The previous Pyramid grouped all foods in three layers: The Eat Most layer containing plant-based foods (fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts and legumes); the Eat Moderately layer containing dairy foods (and dairy alternatives) and meat (and meat alternatives); and a small top layer with added fats and sugars.
What I like about this new updated pyramid:
- I like the explicit reference to herbs and spices. Indeed herbs and spices are ranked as the 2nd most nutrient-dense food group on the planet behind organ meats according to the LaLonde nutrient-density scale (ref: Chris Kresser, The Paleo Cure).
- I like the focus on drinking water as your main drink. Hopefully this will discourage the consumption of sports drinks, juices and energy drinks, particularly among children.
- Hooray that grains have lost their status from the ‘to be eaten most‘ bottom layer. They definitely should NOT form the bulk of the human diet.
- I like the acknowledgement of eating a wide variety of foods especially the references to non-gluten grains like soba noodles (which are usually made from buckwheat but be sure to check the ingredients say 100% buckwheat) and quinoa. Hopefully people will see that there’s more to life than just gluten.
- I like the strengthening of “limit added sugar” message. Hopefully this will be seen as a clear message to cut out junk food and sugary drinks (a reminder to parents that junk food is called precisely that for a reason: it is not a treat but a punishment for young bodies).
- I like the blanket avoidance of trans fats. They are banned in most of Europe for good reason. Trans fats are contained in margarine and many packaged foods especially conventional biscuits and smothered on popcorn at cinemas. Rethink your snacks!
WHY THERE IS SO MUCH WORK STILL TO BE DONE =
O N E
There is NO regard to the source and processing of food. Not all veggies, fruit, grains, dairy products, meat, salt, herbs, spices and water are nutritionally equal. There is a world of difference between:
a. Sprayed produce, herbs and spices grown in petro-chemically fertilized mineral-depleted soil, and those that are not sprayed and grown in mineral rich soil
b. Industrial feed lot/grain-fed animals versus pastured animals reared outdoors in sunshine on mineral-rich pasture under sustainable farming methods
c. Farmed seafood versus farmed seafood. Read more about that HERE.
d. Table salt which is stripped of all minerals, bleached and toxic to the human body versus unrefined salt such as sea salt or Himalayan crystal salt which are mineral-rich and essential for good healtH
e. Tap water which contains fluoride, chlorine and heavy metals versus purified water.
f. Grains, legumes, seeds and nuts that have not been properly prepared to remove phytates versus those that have been properly prepared
g. I could go on and on here but you get my drift...!
T W O
Demonisation of saturated fats. The pyramid encourages us to choose “polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats from plant sources, such as extra virgin olive oil, nut and seed oils” and “to limit saturated fat”. While I am a big fan of extra virgin cold pressed olive oil (especially as a finishing oil on salads and veggies) there is now an abundance of scientific studies that have exonerated saturated fats, from natural sources, from being associated with heart disease, raising cholesterol levels and clogging arteries. The Australian government urgently needs to pay attention to the latest robust science and acknowledge that not all saturated fats are created equal . Yes trans fats are to be avoided like the plague and I salute the government’s stance in that respect, but saturated fats from natural sources are essential to our health for a host of reasons. The reference to “lean” meat is sending people the wrong message. The picture of Healthy Fats should really include traditional fats like butter, cream, fat on pastured meats, coconut oil etc. Instead there should be a blanket prohibition of the industrialized seeds oils like vegetable oils, canola, cottonseed, rice bran oil, sunflower oil etc. There is an abundance of evidence that these are toxic to the human body and their high omega 6 content has a very pro-inflammatory effect on the body.
T H R E E
Demonisation of salt. Not all salt is created equal as I mentioned above. While table salt is unhealthy in every respect, unrefined salt is full of trace minerals and essential to our health. Chris Kresser wrote an in-depth series on salt for those who are still skeptical which you can READ HERE. Given that the masses are still eating refined/table salt then perhaps a ‘limit salt’ message is not a bad thing.
F O U R
The inclusion of soy foods like soy milk and tofu is problematic. Unfermented soy products like tofu and soy milk have numerous negative health implications especially on hormones. Small amounts of long fermented soy products like tamari, tempeh, miso are ok for those without digestive or hormonal issues. You can read more about my views on soy in my blog HERE.
F I V E
Grains and legumes should have a much much smaller role to play (if any) in the human diet. They were introduced into the human diet a mere 10,000 years ago which is a tiny blip on the timescale of human evolution when our genes were set on a hunter-gatherer diet 2.6 million years ago. As a staple food, gluten grains cause numerous health implications. The occasional consumption of properly prepared (eg soaked, sprouted, fermented) legumes and non-gluten grains is acceptable for those without digestive issues. This should be at the very top of the pyramid. Grains and legumes coming from a tin are certainly not properly prepared and shouldn’t be included in the pyramid!
S I X
It is not clear whether the foods are grouped by calories or their volume on a plate. Obviously vegetables will typically take up more ‘plate real estate’ than animal products because they are far less calorically dense. However in terms of calories, animal fats are more calorically dense than plant matter so the bulk of our calories should typically come from saturated fats (from natural sources) as opposed to plant matter. The pyramid is giving us the strong impression that we should be getting the bulk of our calories from plant matter. While plant matter is indeed important, animal products (properly sourced) are of vital importance especially in growing children and pregnant woman. Plant matter is very cleansing and detoxifying whereas animal products are fortifying and building. Children and fetuses need to grow more than to be cleansed.
S E V E N
It is a pipedream, but the foundational foods are missing: bone broth, lacto-fermented foods and organ meats. These 3 categories of powerful nutrient-rich health-promoting foundational foods that sustained the human race for millennia have lost their way from the modern table. And this is, in my opinion, one of the reasons contributing to our degenerative demise as a species. One of my missions in life is to bring these foundational foods back to the modern table through my cooking workshops, the proper preparation and sale of these foods, and education via private health coaching sessions and blogging.
I think that the new pyramid is a step in the right direction by its concerted effort to encourage people to choose whole foods and minimally-processed foods and drinks.
If you were to ask me to construct a food pyramid I would adopt something like the ones below crafted by Nourishing Hope or Chris Kresser. Of course, any food pyramid is generic and needs to be adapted to suit individual needs of each person, which is what I do in my private nutritional consultations.