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June 2005 Issue
The USDA’s new, improved, MyPyramid; Is it What’s for Dinner?
by Michael Fick
Table of Contents | Single-page view

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The Harvard School of Public Health Dept. of Nutrition berates MyPyramid as good science corrupted by agribusiness politics (their concept; my words). While some of Harvard’s politics are simply insane, their complaints about MyPyramid are based on broadly-accepted medical principles this column has echoed for years. So what are Harvard’s complaints, and how valid are they?

Harvard blasts MyPyramid’s permission to eat up to 50% of our grains in the form of refined flour. Because refined flour can be described as sugar-like junk food (aka white bread) manufactured from processed grain byproducts by a giant industry with heavy congressional lobbying influence, Harvard’s complaint seems valid at first.

In fact, however, MyPyramid discusses at length the importance of whole grains and exactly how to get them. It allows that much white bread primarily, it seems, because it is heavily fortified with some nutrients some people lack in their diets, but it’s a good bet the food porn lobby is involved, too.

Harvard complains that although MyPyramid explains that some fats are healthier than others, it fails to distinguish between bacon and, say, salmon as meats from different food planets, or between spare ribs and soy as protein sources from different food galaxies. In fact MyPyramid discusses the rationale and necessity of eating more of the right fats and less of the wrong ones, but not to Harvard’s satisfaction. The agribusiness lobby at work again.

Harvard complains because MyPyramid allows three cups of dairy foods without caveats beyond sat fat content, thus ignoring lactose intolerance, the 30 pounds a year that quantity of dairy could put on overweight people, and its implications in prostate and uterine cancer. In fact, MyPyramid does warn of and suggest how to circumvent lactose intolerance, and advises us to use mostly non-fat or low-fat dairy products. There are also questions about the studies implicating calcium in those cancers, so even that part of Harvard’s complaint is questionable. We can bet, though, that in a close race MyPyramid is likely to lean in the direction of the dairy industry.

IMO, the most valid complaint of Harvard and others is that MyPyramid doesn’t list a single food, food component, food substitute, can of pop, dose of high-fructose corn syrup, or box of manufactured Crapola Chips that we should consume less of. If you think the junk food lobby didn’t prevail here, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. MyPyramid just doesn’t sufficiently emphasize the importance of weight control in general and the avoidance of some manufactured food substitutes in particular – such as most of what you see on “24/7” curb market shelves.

As an alternative to the USDA's MyPyramid, Harvard experts built their own Healthy Eating Pyramid as part of their excellent nutrition website. The Healthy Eating Pyramid incorporates more recent nutrition research than the more ponderous government can keep up with, but then a time-lag filter on new clinical trials data can be beneficial. Both websites together should be almost all most people need to learn how they should eat. (Those, and, of course, this column.)

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