MyPlate – the new American USDA food pyramid
The new American Food Plate was launched on Thursday 2nd June 2011. Here it is – or you can see the original on the USDA web site.
Let’s start with the positive:
1) It’s much easier to understand that the current American Food Pyramid (2005):
This was so complicated (and seemingly needed to be individually tailored), that many people just carried on using the old American Food Pyramid (below – introduced 1992), which directed Americans to have: 6-11 grain portions a day; 2-4 fruit portions; 3-5 vegetable portions; 2-3 dairy servings and 2-3 meat/egg/fish/bean/nuts/egg servings per day. Hence Americans could have 26 portions of food a day – all having an impact on blood glucose levels. And we wonder why America led the world in getting fat and sick.
MyPlate is served with some advice, as a side dish
Here is the accompanying dietary advice in black; my comments in red alongside:
● Enjoy your food, but eat less. (Less than what? An anorexic? Less than you are eating now? Less than you need for health?)
● Avoid oversized portions. (Requires too much judgement to be useful advice – what is oversized to you may not be to me or vice versa. Plus – it is very difficult to ‘overeat’ real food – organic meat/fish/eggs/veg – it is very easy to ‘overeat’ processed food. Hence nature sorts out portion sizes for us)
Foods to Increase
● Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. (i.e. Fructose & glucose & glucose).
● Make at least half your grains whole grains. (there is debate on this in the informed nutritional world – whole grains have more nutrients than white grains (still far fewer than quality meat/fish/eggs), but white grains are less abrasive than whole grains and therefore less likely to cause irritable bowel syndrome or bowel cancer. It’s all glucose to the body either way).
● Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk. (The UK is deficient in vitamins A, D, E and our government doesn’t bother recording vitamin K in the National Food Survey, but no doubt we are deficient in all four fat soluble vitamins. I doubt that the USA is any better, so we would be well advised to consume real fats in real food – like milk from ruminants freely living on grass. Nature sensibly puts real fat with real fat soluble vitamins in real food. Man stupidly takes them out).
Foods to Reduce
● Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals ― and choose the foods with lower numbers. (Don’t eat anything processed).
● Drink water instead of sugary drinks. (Good advice. Better still “Don’t drink anything processed”).
So the new MyPlate is simpler, but does this make it any better… Here are my key concerns for America’s national (public) health and for the nutritional advice in this new model…
Three national health concerns about MyPlate
1) This will do nothing to solve the obesity epidemic.
I have written 135,000 words on The Obesity Epidemic: What caused it? How can we stop it? In a nutshell we changed our diet advice (America in 1977-1980 and the UK followed suit in 1980-1983) and obesity has increased 10 fold since in the UK; America started from a slightly higher base, so has ‘only’ increased by a few multiples and not 10! We changed our advice away from “Farinaceous and vegetable foods are fattening, and saccharine matters are especially so” (Tanner, The Practice of Medicine, 1869) to “Base your meals on starchy foods.” This has had catastrophic consequences for human weight and health and cataclysmic benefit for the food, drink and drug industries, which profit from us being fat and sick.
MyPlate will do nothing to change this. It is still telling humans to “Base your meals on starchy foods” instead of realising, as we did for the 3.5 million years before the last 30 years of ‘conventional wisdom’, that carbs are uniquely fattening (and unnecessary for human health). Grains are just glucose, fruit is fructose and glucose (a particularly uniquely fattening combination – the same as sucrose – table sugar), vegetable are glucose (potatoes and starchy vegetables especially so) and dairy (processed yoghurts) and protein foods (beans etc) chosen can also have a carbohydrate content.
2) This will do nothing to solve the nutritional crisis.
We seem to have forgotten why we eat. We eat because there are 13 vitamins and c.16 minerals vital for human existence, let alone health and well being. All the plates and pyramids are obsessed with macro nutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrate); they seem to have forgotten mico nutrients (vitamins & minerals) entirely. Remember that slogan “Take care of the pennies/cents and the pounds/dollars look after themselves”? This applies nicely to nutrition. “Take care of the vitamins and minerals and the fats, protein and carbs will look after themselves.”
Our dietary advice should start from – how do we get our vitamins and minerals (notwithstanding that the concepts of “Recommended Dietary Allowance” (RDA), let alone “Adequate Intake” (AI) are a joke – as Sally Fallon Morell says “Why am I only allowed a certain level of nutrition?”!) I did just this in my book The Obesity Epidemic. I’ve put three examples (for omnivores, vegetarians and vegans) as an Appendix to this post.
MyPlate will do little to nothing to improve the health of the American nation. We should be telling people to base their meals on meat and eggs from animals freely grazing on grass; fish and vegetables/salads. Quality dairy (again – only products from grass living animals are worth consuming), nuts & seeds (in moderation if overweight) and local, seasonal fruits (in moderation if overweight) are useful additions to the meat/fish/egg/veg base. Almost half the plate is taken up by fruits and grains – high glucose/low nutrition relative to meat/fish & eggs. No attention is given to the quality of food (other than the emphasis on whole grains, which is debatable (see red notes above)). The importance of eating animals that have predigested cellulose for us (arguably their role in the circle of life, along with fertilising the soil without needing oil) is not addressed. The epidemic of (type 2) diabetes will continue unabated with this level of carbohydrate intake.
3) The food industry will still love this.
The food industry, in fact, wasted no time in saying how much they loved it. Kellogg’s and General Mills (sponsors of the American Dietetic Association) (ADA) will love that grain segment – that’s cereals for breakfast then. Unilever and CoroWise (more ADA sponsors) should be happy – dietitians will be telling people to put hydrogenated spreads on their copious amounts of bread – certainly not that natural butter product. The dairy industry (another ADA sponsor) will be very happy – they’ve got their own little segment all to themselves. When chips and potatoes count as veg, the fast food companies will be happy (Aramark – the ‘dining away from home’ ADA sponsor – should be happy anyway). Plus, no one is really going to opt for water instead of phenomenally promoted Coca-cola & Pepsi (not least when these are also ADA sponsors and therefore able to convince dietitians of the marvel of calorie-free, aspartame-laden, fizzy concoctions).
Here’s how it works for the fast food industry: Burger (protein), bun (grains), fries (vegetables), tomato slice (fruit), lettuce leaf & gherkin (more vegetables), strawberry milk shake (more fruit & dairy) – the perfect meal!
Anything that the food industry likes is a fail. The food industry would hate my advice – see below!
Three nutritional/technical concerns about MyPlate
1) The USDA appears not to know the difference between a food group and a macro nutrient!
There are 3 macro nutrients: fat, protein and carbs. There are essential fats (i.e. fats we must eat); there are essential proteins (i.e. amino acids we must eat); there are no essential carbs (i.e. there are no carbs that we must eat). Yes the brain does need glucose, but that doesn’t mean that we need to eat it. Indeed, anyone wanting to lose weight should relish in the fact that the brain needs glucose. Don’t eat it and then the body send out a signal to break down body fat to get glycerol/glucose. Result!
MyPlate has 4 food groups: vegetables, fruits, grains and dairy and one macro nutrient – protein! Protein is actually in everything. Literally everything from lettuce to apples to oats to beef. Hence MyPlate has protein in every segment. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but they still don’t know food groups from macro nutrients!
My food groups would be: meat; fish; eggs; dairy; vegetables & salads; nuts & seeds; fruits; legumes (beans & pulses) and grains. That would make 9 in total. 5 of my food groups – meat; fish; eggs; nuts & seeds and beans & pulses – would end up in the one macro nutrient group on MyPlate – the protein segment. This should be the major part of the plate, not the minor part and the USDA should know a food group from a macro nutrient.
2) The USDA is as fat phobic as ever.
We changed our dietary advice c. 1980 (and started the obesity epidemic in so doing) because we developed this mad idea that fat is going to kill us. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 list: ice cream; sherbet; frozen yogurt; cakes; cookies; quick breads; doughnuts; margarine; sausages; potato chips; corn chips; popcorn and yeast bread as saturated fats. These are not saturated fats – not primarily, not even secondarily. They are first processed foods, secondly major sources of carbohydrates and thirdly, almost all then have more unsaturated fat than saturated fat (not that any real fat is better or worse than any other, but these are not real fats, and they are not saturated fats). Don’t eat any of these heaps of junk because they are processed heaps of junk. However, real fats in real food are absolutely vital for human health and we are suffering epidemic levels of deficiencies, in vitamins A and D particularly, in the UK and the USA.
Where is the fat on MyPlate? Where is the quality offal and red meat? the mackerel? the sardines? the quality dairy foods? the real butter? the free range eggs? Where are the vital fats that we need? Emphasizing protein and carbs and not fat is seriously harmful to health. Fats are vital, carbs are not. Protein is vital, but consuming protein in an unnatural balance (without the fat that nature provides naturally alongside) is a rapid route to vitamin A depletion and liver and other health damage. Ask bodybuilders!
3) MyPlate is a visual guide, which is easy to understand but then falls victim to “The law of unintended consequences”.
MyPlate is clearly intended to be volume guide “Make half your plate fruit and vegetables” is one of the instructions. The UK eatbadly plate may appear to be a visual “this is how your plate should look”, but, when I asked the UK Food Standards Agency where the proportions in their food groups came from (listed below), the answer was based on weight.
33% Starchy foods (bread, potatoes, pasta, cereals etc)
33% Fruit and vegetables
15% Non dairy protein (meat, fish, eggs, beans etc)
12% Milk and Dairy products
8% Foods high in fat and sugar (101% due to rounding)
I did another interesting experiment in The Obesity Epidemic: What caused it? How can we stop it? I started with 100 grams of starchy foods and then calculated the weight of the other categories, to maintain the proposed proportions. The weight of fruit and vegetables would also be 100 grams; non dairy protein would be 45 grams; there would be 36 grams of milk and dairy and 24 grams of foods high in fat and sugar.
Using a sample of foods from the USDA food database, I estimated the calorie averages for 100 grams of each of these food groups as 333, 42, 188, 183 and 595 respectively. This would give the estimated calorie values (for each of these weights) of 333, 42, 85, 67 and 144 respectively. If these are then scaled up in proportion for a 2,000 calorie a day diet, the five groups end up with 992, 125, 255, 198 and 430 calories respectively. The numbers will vary for each person’s interpretation of the plate, but you can see how one third of intake in the form of starchy foods can represent half of calorie intake and another third from fruit and vegetables just 6% of energy. The supposedly smallest segment, being so energy dense, can form a perhaps unanticipated 21% of calorie intake.
The same will happen with MyPlate – potatoes and chips as ‘vegetables’ not withstanding, the energy intake (which is what the body registers) for vegetables will be small relative to, say, nutritionally inferior grains.
This would be my advice by the way:
1) Eat food – we shouldn’t need to call it real food.
2) Eat that real food three times a day – unless you are a cow, or want to be the size of one, stop grazing!
3) If you need to manage your weight, manage your carb intake. Gaining weight is literally defined by the formation of triglyceride (body fat) and this is beautifully facilitated by eating carbs, which provide glucose for the glycerol part of the triglyceride structure and insulin to enable fat storage. Losing weight is literally defined as breaking down triglyceride (body fat) which can happen when the brain wants the glycerol part for glucose or the body wants the fat part for energy/repair. So, weight gain happens in the presence of carbohydrate/glucose/insulin and weight loss happens in the absence of carbohydrate/glucose/insulin.
MyPlate will encourage you to eat 70% of your food intake in a form that contains carbohydrate and allows you to eat 100% in this way. Nothing like what we have been eating for 3.5 million years and nothing like what we need to eat to end the epidemics of being fat and sick.
This is another tragic missed opportunity to do something about the weight and health of Americans. Follow MyAdvice and not MyPlate and you’ll buck the trend.
In The Obesity Epidemic, for Appendix 3, I did an experiment where I tried to get the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for 12 vitamins (information for B7, Biotin, was not available) and 8 minerals (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, iron, manganese, selenium and zinc). These were the nutrients for which the United States Department of Agriculture database had information and for which there was an RDA. Having said this, there were no RDA’s for vitamins B5, D and K or for the minerals calcium and manganese – an ‘Adequate Intake’ was recommended.
– Omnivores can get the RDA’s/AI’s from the following 5 foods: 100 grams of liver, 200 grams of sardines, 200 grams of whole milk, 100 grams of sunflower seeds and 200 grams of broccoli (1,300 calories). There will be infinite combinations of real foods that can provide the RDA’s/AI’s, but I started from the ones known to be highly nutritious.
– For vegetarians, the RDA’s/AI’s’s could be met with these five foods: 500 grams of whole milk, 450 grams of eggs (10 medium eggs), 300 grams of spinach, 250 grams of raw mushrooms grown in sunshine and 50 grams of sunflower seeds (1,360 calories). Dietary advisors applaud people for choosing a vegetarian diet, but then tell them to avoid eggs and to consume low-fat milk. It then becomes practically impossible for a vegetarian to meet even minimal nutritional requirements.
– Vegans can’t get B12 naturally and they would need to eat 2.25 kilograms of (raw sunshine grown) mushrooms in a fat delivery mechanism (e.g. vegetable oil – unhealthy per se) to get the ‘adequate intake’ for vitamin D and an unusual food like oriental dried radishes to get their calcium – and to repeat this daily. For completeness, the five vegan foods would be 2.25 kilograms of mushrooms, 175 grams of porridge oats, 25 grams of sunflower seeds, 100 grams of oriental dried radishes and 300 grams of spinach (in more vegetable oil) and a vitamin B12 supplement. Without the calories in the vegetable oil, the vegan basket adds up to 1,644 calories – the highest of all three sample ways of getting our nutritional requirement.
15 thoughts on “MyPlate – the new American USDA food pyramid”
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Wow, Zoe! Great stuff. I am a firefighter / medical responder from half a world away (in Arizona). I see the metabolic destruction that occurs in society on a daily basis. People who take meds by the fistfuls but can’t truly help themselves are reliant on a medical establishment that is failing and government bent on killing us (what other explanation is there?). I just wish the fat and sickly would care enough about themselves to learn and then change.
I look forward to reading ALL of your essays. As Angelo Copola of Latest in Paleo (http://www.latestinpaleo.com/podcast) says in every podcast, “Humans are not broken by default”. I for one agree.
Can I eat any beef/ pork liver(organs) when I’m on diet?
Have you ever seen any real people -you haven’t have you?another Gary I think he he is a theorist!
Zoe, I just came across your blog via Low Carb Daily. This is a GREAT post, really thorough and informative. I’m studying to be a registered dietitian in the US and I seem to be one of few who advocates a low-carb diet. I’ll definitely be adding your blog to the links on my site.
I have just read your article on the Obesity epidemic. I have not read the book yet, but I have to say that already I agree with your findings, it’s as if a bell has gone off in my head. It has made me realise that the change in our eating habits are being pushed on us from advertising and government changes. I was one of three children, my father was in full-time employment, my mother worked when I was 10 years old. Their income was modest, so food shopping was done once a week and nothing else was bought untill the following week. They had a two pints of milk deliverd every day. We were never hungry and we always ate at the table.
My childhood daily eating in the 1960’s consisted of, breakfast, usually Ready break or porrige with sugar and full fat milk, then mid-morning school milk ( which has been stopped in over 5’s now ). Lunch, was a cooked school meal, meat, poatoes, greens and gravy. pudding was, a piece of cake and custard. There was only water on offer to drink, squash and juice were unheard of. Tea after school at home was, meat stew or caserole with more vegetables. Supper was a cup of hot milk. On weekends, we had a boiled egg and soldiers for breakfast, Traditional Sunday roast, fruit tart and custard for dessert, or tinned fruit with evaporated mik for a treat. We often had egg or cheese sandwiches for tea but only weekends. Biscuits were only bought with the Friday groceries, once they were gone there weren’t anymore. We never had tinned spagghetti or tinned soups ect. My Parents could not afford them and they weren’t fashionable. Sweets were only for special occassions, and we hardly ate out, there was only the local fish and chip shops, there were no Indian or Chinese takeaways.
After reading your article, I could see the connection. Our diet changed as you say, in the 70’s, School lunch, became sausage, chips and beans, crisps and bisuits were sold at breaktime. After school, we ate white sliced bread sandwhiches of peanut butter or chocolate spread, as it become popular. Tinned spagghetti, baked beans, ect were in the cupboard, as well as pizzas. We had a freezer, then all sorts of things became available, including a lot more bread. Our breakfast changed to Cornflakes or Cocopops and other sweet cereals as they were being advertised on TV. Chinese takeaway opened and an Indian Take away, there were coffee and cake tea shops. Eating out was becomming a fashion. Along with “Chicken and chips in a basket” at the local pub.
BUT then came the Wholegrain era. I even did a course on “Wellness”, we were told to eat more fibre, wholegrains, whole meal bread, 5 slices a day etc. jacket potatoes, cut down on the meat,eggs, cheese and eat loads of fruit and drink fruit juices etc. Change to Low fat spreads and low fat meals ( full of sugar!!) I started to put on even more weight and so it has continued, untill last week, then I read your article!! Now I want to turn back the clock, I just hope it’s not too late.
None of us were overweight untill after 1977. Then we all started to pile on weight. By 2006, my Father who had always been quite a slight man, developed type 2 Diabetes and had two heart attacks, and eventually died at 68, my one brother developed type 2 diabetes. My other brother had a heart attack, but survived!! My mother put on loads of weight, has high blood pressure and problems with athritis. I have developed wide spread athritis and am now obese at 53, and always on a diet!!!
I will certainly not be nagging my Grandkids to eat too many starchy wholegrains or low fat ready made products. I’ll encourage more water drinking, milk drinking, eating of eggs, meat and fish and not encourage snacking or “grazing” (as is the fashion), of any kind, not even on the “healthy fruit, seeds or nuts”, I’m going back to three good cooked meals a day, consisting of lots of greens, with fruit for dessert, with or without the custard. I’ll also try not to spend so much time in the supermarket to be persuaded to purchase these sugary, sarchy, carbohyrate foods, ready made low -fat ” healthy Sandwiches”, cereals and ” healthy ready made meals” that were supposed to be better for me than my Sunday Roast!! And hopefully I’ll finally lose weight.
I’ve just ordered your book The Obesity Crisis along with The Harcombe Diet Stop Counting Calories diet Book, The Harcombe Diet Stop Counting Calories Recipe Book and The Harcombe Diet: The Recipe Book.
I am currently 19 stone. A few years ago my doctor put me on Xenical and I got down to 15 stone. Looking back, after the first month of the drug I realised that it wasn’t the drug but two other reasons why I lost the weight. The first was that you HAVE to change your diet considerably to avoid the messy side effects and secondly the fact that you have to be weighed monthly by your doctor is an insentive to stick to low calories and execise.
I am looking forward to reading your books. I much prefer to understand how to do something that be told a specific diet to follow.
Hi Phil – welcome to real food! It’s the only way to lose weight and keep it off. Many thanks for joining the club – the lovely people in there will keep you sorted
Very best wishes – Zoe
Hi Chris – many thanks for being another person in the unconventional wisdom team!
The exact passage in The Great Cholesterol con is as follows (the section from Dr MK is in ” ” and the quote from the Framingham study is in ‘ ‘):
“A key finding from the Framingham study was the following:
‘There is a direct association between falling cholesterol levels over the first 14 years (of the study) and mortality over the following 18 years (11% overall and 14% CVD death rate increase per 1mg/dl per year drop in cholesterol levels).’
The figures on total mortality show an 11 per cent overall increase of death for each 1 mg/dl drop in cholesterol levels, which doesn’t sound that bad. But remember that mg/dl are titchy US units. To convert into the magnificent jumbo-sized units used in the UK – mmol/l – you need to multiply by 39. So, a quick translation of the Framingham results gives the following: a 1mmol/l fall in cholesterol levels is equal to (39 x 11 per cent) increase in the risk of total mortality. Which is 429 per cent.
To put this into a real-life context, if your total cholesterol were to fall from 5 to 4 mmol/l, your risk of dying would increase by more than 400 per cent. Not only that, but your risk of dying of a cardiovascular disease would increase by 39 x 14 per cent = 546 per cent.”
I think Dr MK is right…
5mmol/l (UK) = 193 mg/dl (USA).
What Dr MK is saying is – if a 1mg/dl reduction in cholesterol levels increases total mortality by 11% then that equates to a reduction from 193 mg/dl to 192 mg/dl. The UK equivalent would be a reduction from 5 to 4.97 mmol/l.
A UK reduction from 5 mmol/l to 4 mmol/l would equal a US reduction from 193 to 154 = 39 mg/dl so Dr MK has presented that as 39*11 i.e. 11% for every 1 mg/dl drop.
Whether or not this observation is linear (and can therefore be extrapolated in this way) can be challenged, but the original Framingham quote does say PER 1mg/dl drop, which does support the route Dr MK has taken.
Hope this helps
Have you seen this one on cholesterol and mortality? (https://www.zoeharcombe.com/2010/11/cholesterol-heart-disease-%E2%80%93-there-is-a-relationship-but-it%E2%80%99s-not-what-you-think/)
Best wishes – Zoe
I just read your book.Congratulations,I am with you all the way,and with Barry Groves,Gary Taubes, Malcolm Kendrick etc. But I have a question.I may be dumb but there is somethiong I dont understand. You quote Dr. Kendrick on page 163..his “clever calculation”.He states in The Great Cholesterol Con,page92,that it is reported that there is an 11% increase in total mortality for each 1mg/dl drop in cholesterol.(Framingham)From lets say 6mgm down to say 5mg/dl. This is a 16.7% drop. He then points out,quite correctly, that to convert mg/dl to mmols/L you have to multiply by 39. OK, but then he bizarrely multiplies the conversion factor by the 11% increase in mortality to achieve a magnificent 429% increase in total mortality.(You have chosen 5 down to 4..keeps the maths simpler but otherwise the same) The increase in mortality is the same with a given percentage reduction in cholesterol regardless of what units it is measured in.Multiplying the percentage increase in mortality by the conversion factor doesnt make sense to me.Am I misunderstanding or has Dr Kendrick got this wrong?Can you clarify.Dr. Chris Korvin
Wow, Zoe this is the best post I’ve read yet about the new USDA food pyramid. I couldn’t agree with you more. I had to laugh when I first saw it but then my humor turned to anger as it’s only going to confuse people more. You’re right, when the powers that be can’t tell the difference between macronutrients and food groups we’re in trouble. You’ve got a solid grasp of what’s going on and the real problem. I commend you for telling it like it is. Keep up the good work. As a fitness trainer of over twenty years and someone who specializes in weight loss we need more people like yourself educating on the truth. Keep up the good work. Shane
i find all your blogs REALLY interesting, especially as u think out of the box.
(i have all your books & am re-reading the red-covered one)
2 questions please:
1) when we over-eat & get hot – is that the body trying to get rid of extra calories?
2) also if i get very tired/late to bed & wake up the next morning i am always hot ( this is when i am eating normally & healthily & not drinking alochol); as i am facinated with psyiology -why would this be?
Hi Anna – many thanks for your kind words. The quick answer to 1) is yes! My body did the same – when I binged I used to turn into a little ‘furnace’. The body is literally burning fuel/oxidising carbs – and working overtime doing it!
2) I have no idea! You sound too young for this to be hot flushes! I’m only interested in food and weight loss, not body temperature upon waking! Sorry!
Best wishes – Zoe
HYPOTHYROIDISM? basal temperature. Just a thought.