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Image by Beth Rankin

If you went to public school, you’re probably familiar with the food pyramid. You were probably also taught that this is the “healthy” way to eat. These days the food pyramid has been replaced with My Plate. While the format has changed, the nutritional guidance has remained the same: everyone needs the same foods to nourish their bodies.  These standards are not just used to teach our kids about nutrition in school. They are also used by hospitals and doctors offices for nutritional education. Beyond this, the USDA standards also affect the label on packaged foods- you know, all of that “daily allowance” business?

But have you ever thought about where these standards come from, who made them up or why we have them? As a child I accepted this guidance and never thought about whether it was sound advice. As an adult, I now understand that there are many things that play into our USDA guidelines. Unfortunately, most of them have little to do with what is best for each of us!

Image by Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion

You would hope that medical professionals, nutritionists and the latest scientific research on food and nutrition would be the basis for these standards, but that isn’t the case.  Instead, politicians and food lobbyists play a major role in what gets put in the recommended eating guide.

The government came up with our very first food standards back in 1917 titled “How to Select Foods.” Back then, sugar and sugary foods were considered a food group… we were not off to a good start. The food guides went through many changes to accommodate war times, the depression and the creation of “recommended daily allowances.” In the 1970s, incomplete research on the effects of cholesterol and disease vilified fats and led to their diminished presence in all subsequent food guides.

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Today’s food guide is My Plate. Vegetables are finally taking the most prominent role, however you’ll notice fats are nowhere to be found. There is also no guidance on the types of grains that are recommended to take up over ¼ of your plate (i.e. whole, non-gmo grains).  The food guide is required to be reevaluated every five years. Each time, food lobbyists fight to give their cause more emphasis. To illustrate this, take a look at the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate, which the USDA’s My Plate is based.

Image by Harvard

Notice any difference? Water instead of milk, oils included and much more information on the types of foods in each group that should be consumed. I don’t feel either “plate” gets it right, but it certainly is interesting to see the effects of lobbyists on our government’s food recommendations.

Image by Laura

The advice pictured above was printed on poster in 1917 but I find it much more applicable today than My Plate or the Food Pyramid.  So what guidelines should we follow? Below are some general guidelines everyone can benefit from. While we are all similar in makeup, what we eat needs to be tailored to our individual needs.

Eat Whole Foods
This is of course, the most important guideline we can follow. Eating a diet of fresh, whole quality foods will allow your body to function optimally. Switching to a whole foods diet can decrease current health problems, prevent future ones and help regulate weight.

Eat Lots of Fresh Vegetables and Fruit
Fruits and veggies are high in vitamins and minerals and full of healthy fiber. They are also full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that help heal and prevent disease. Choose fresh, local, pesticide free produce that is not genetically modified.

Eat Quality Sources of Protein
Protein is important for everyone. It is a macronutrient that your body needs to function effectively. Our bodies all digest protein differently (just like all foods) so one size does not fit all. The mass production meat industry (and all of their lobbyists) would love you to think meat is your only source of protein. Luckily there is a wide range of whole foods that are high in protein. Grass fed and free range meats, wild caught fish, organic beans, eggs, seeds and nuts are all excellent sources of protein that are sustainable and full of other nutrients your body needs.

Eat Healthy Fats
Fat is good! Fats from whole foods or that are unrefined are essential to your body. Good fats are not the cause of heart disease, obesity and other major illnesses as they have been made out to be.

Eat Foods that Nourish Your Body
As I mentioned above, we are each individuals and just as our personalities differ, so do our nutritional needs. Once you remove refined foods from your diet, your body will instinctively crave what it needs (kids are great at this because they don’t have emotional attachments to food). This may be more vitamin C, more omega-3s or more magnesium on some days- so listen to your body!

Do you follow USDA guidelines?



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1 Comment

  1. I love this. I am actually taking a course to become a health coach and the curriculum follows government guidelines. I am so glad I’ve gotten the opportunity to get this certification, but I do not agree with everything. The fact that there is only one small paragraph in the whole nutrition section dedicated to “engineered food” was a bad sign.

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