Food Pyramids & Food Politics
Of the many governmental agencies that exist, the two that have a direct impact on our food chain are the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). Let's take a look at what these two agencies are responsible for:
The USDA is a department of the government headed by the Secretary of Agriculture. It is responsible for:
- Developing and executing governmental policies to help the farming and agricultural industries. It also assists rural communities with financial funding.
- Providing dietary advice and recommendations to the general public.
- Promoting agricultural trade & production.
- Working closely with the FDA to ensure food safety.
The FDA is a section of the U. S. Department of Health & Human Services responsible for:
- Protecting public health by ensuring the safety of prescription and non-prescription drugs, nutritional supplements, cosmetics, veterinary products, radiation-emitting products, medical devices, biological products, tobacco products, and other items.
- Enforcing laws with regard to disease control.
Conflict Of Interest
Unfortunately for the American people, the USDA and FDA have had conflicting priorities right from the start. On one hand, they are tasked with protecting the public's health. But on the other hand, they also protect the interests of powerful for-profit food and pharmaceutical industry giants. It is not possible to succeed at doing both.
The government receives substantial financial contributions from powerful food industry lobbyists. These lobbyists would never provide such funding if the government educated the public on how unhealthy their processed and refined foods are, and on the toxic nature of many ingredients in these foods. Educating the public on excluding these foods from their diet would seriously damage the profits of the 5 food corporations that control most of our food chain.
A politician will always protect whatever produces profit from their state. A Senator from a meat-producing state will always protect the cattle industry, even though that industry engages in factory-farming practices considered so cruel and inhumane that they are banned in other civilized countries.
- What is factory farming & why is it banned in other countries?
- 7 reasons factory-farmed meat is dangerous for your health
A Senator from a dairy-producing state will do the same, and never share with the public studies that now link the increase in osteoporosis and other bone-related diseases to pasteurized dairy products. They will not share that pasteurization destroys the nutrients in milk, contain antibiotic residue, can contain growth hormones and medicated additives, and are fortified with synthetic vitamins.
National Cancer Inst. & Nat'l Inst. of Health
The public policies of an individual state will always reflect what the Senator wants to protect, and what they protect is often based on the funding they receive. Why is this a problem? Because this directly affects how food policies are written. Even if independent organizations provide conclusive studies that eating a certain food type (or eating it in large quantities) is detrimental to public health, a Senator will swiftly work with lobbyists from that food industry to ensure there is no mention of decreasing that food in the American diet.
Medical research organizations such as the NCI and NIH estimate that 35% of all cancers can be prevented by diet, yet these organizations only devote 2-3% of their entire research budget to finding out why, and they provide no education to the public on this fact.
The USDA Food Pyramids
Even though the USDA has other responsibilities, let's take a look at their role in providing dietary advice and recommendations to the general public.
In 1991, the USDA and the Department of Health & Human Services created the first ever Food Guide Pyramid as a visual reference for what we should eat for optimal nutrition. The meat and dairy industries immediately blocked the food pyramid's publication, claiming it cast a negative light on their products because the guidelines recommended the public "eat less" of their food.
The USDA caved to industry pressure and withdrew the guide (-1 for protecting public health, +1 for protecting the food industry). A year later, a "revised" pyramid was released to the public reflecting food choices that were "acceptable" to both the meat and dairy industries (-2 for protecting public health, +2 for protecting the food industry).
The pyramid was carbohydrate-heavy and recommended a whopping 6-11 servings of bread, cereal, rice, and pasta. There was little about this pyramid that was based on sound nutritional science, but it does pose a question: Why does the foundation of this food pyramid also mirror the foundation for the most serious chronic diseases of today?
Unfortunately, these guidelines went on to form the basis of nutritional recommendations nationwide, from school lunches to hospitals, insurance companies, to the educational curriculum of Clinical Nutritionists and Registered Dietitians throughout the US. The damage was far-reaching.
The food pyramid was created to make the food industry giants happy, rather than offering sound nutritional advice to the American public.
PRCM Lawsuit Against the USDA
In 2001, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) filed suit against the USDA, questioning the agency's ties to for-profit food industry corporations.
PCRM won the lawsuit, successfully proving that the majority of the committee that reviews and updates federal dietary guidelines had strong financial ties to the meat, egg, or dairy industries.
"Having advisers tied to the meat or dairy industries is as inappropriate as letting tobacco companies decide our standards for air quality," stated Dr. Neal Barnard, President of PCRM.In the final verdict, the USDA was found to be in violation of federal law by withholding documents revealing a strong bias towards the food industry. PRCM's victory was a huge embarrassment to the USDA, because the government had effectively ruled against itself. But even though the PCRM achieved a substantial victory, it took another 4 years before the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reviewed and updated the dietary guidelines again.
In January 2005, the USDA released an updated Dietary Guidelines report, along with a redesigned food pyramid. They also developed a new slogan: "Steps to a healthier you" which is reflected by a person climbing the pyramid steps. The new design was colorful and upbeat.
On the plus side:
- Leafy vegetables and whole grains are a welcome addition.
- Healthy vs. unhealthy fats are introduced.
- Recommendations are given to consume less sugar.
- Nuts and legumes are recognized and recommended as legitimate sources of protein.
- Recommendations are given for people who cannot consume dairy products.
- Recommendations are given to engage in regular physical activity, reducing sedentary activities.
- 12 different pyramids were developed to address a person's differing gender, age, and activity level.
On the minus side:
- Both the milk and vegetable sections are the same size.
- There is no pyramid for vegetarians or vegans.
- It promotes the philosophy of eating as much as you like, as long as you exercise to burn it off.
- There is no mention of the dangers of high sodium and refined sugar.
- There is no recommendation to avoid processed, refined foods.
- Food giants are still not restricted from advertising junk food and unhealthy food to children.
- Food giants are still not restricted from using deceptive terms such as "natural" and "healthy" and "heart healthy" on unhealthy products.
- Even though there are 12 different MyPyramids to choose from based on individual needs, when these 12 pyramids are closely compared, the differences are very minimal, and do not effectively address the concept of different diets for different people.
- These recommendations are not enforced in school lunch programs.
Trans Fat Labeling
Back in the 1990s, studies began linking trans fats (also known as hydrogenated fats) to heart disease, but neither the government nor the food corporations showed any response in protecting consumer health. Food manufacturers have used these dangerous fats for years to extend the shelf life of packaged foods, enhance their flavor, and give a more solid texture to fried and baked foods. As a result of the MyPyramid recommendations, in 2006 the FDA finally mandated that all packaged food list the trans fat content on their nutritional labels.
The FDA itself has estimated that labeling trans fats will prevent 7,000 deaths from heart disease, and 20,000 heart attacks each year (at a healthcare cost savings of a staggering $1 billion/year). Inexplicably, instead of banning them entirely from our food chain as many other countries have done, they are simply requiring that food corporations disclose the amount of trans fats on their labels.(1)
The "MyPlate" - Today's Dietary Guidelines
In June, 2011, MyPlate replaced MyPyramid as the government's primary food group symbol. It was designed to be a simple and easy-to-understand version of the pyramid, and shows a circle divided into four brightly-colored sections.
MyPlate is a significant improvement over previous pyramids, with vegetable and fruits taking up half of the plate (finally!). Proteins and grains are each given a 1/4 of the plate. But let's take a look at the downside:
- Instead of recommending whole grains OVER refined grains, the public is guided towards at least 50% whole grains, and to make sure that refined grains are "enriched" (this means that the grains are so highly processed that the nutrients have been destroyed, and then artificial nutrients are added back to "enrich" it).
- It does not note any difference in quality between protein sources; red meat, fish, chicken, turkey, lentils, soy, beans... they are all simply considered "protein" and are all treated as equal.
- Fats are not mentioned on the plate at all, and in the MyPlate website, there is no differentiation between healthy or unhealthy fats, nor any guidance on why trans fats/hydrogenated fats are a health hazard that need to be completely avoided.
- Despite significant evidence linking pasteurized products to allergies, asthma, bone related disorders, and breast cancer, the USDA questionably increased dairy intake. ...Read more
- There is no mention at all of the importance of avoiding processed foods, high sodium intake, or refined sugar.
- "Processed soy" is recommended as a protein source, even though studies have directly linked the processed soy of today to health conditions (read more about the processed soy of today and why you should completely avoid it).
And let's not forget protecting the food industry giants:
- Food giants are still not restricted from advertising unhealthy and highly processed food items to children, as they are in other countries.
- Food giants are still not restricted from using false advertising tactics to openly deceive the public about the unhealthy nature of their products. Terms such as "natural" and "healthy" and "heart healthy" are used on products that contain artificial chemicals and pesticides.
MyPlate - Intentionally Vague
The dietary guidelines are also intentionally vague. The words "reduce sugar, sodium, and refined grains" does not help the American consumer understand just how much they should consume of these foods, and what they should avoid entirely.
- Should now limit my daily Oreos to 5 instead of 10?
- How about 1 packet of M&Ms instead of 2. Easy fix!
- What about eating sugar cookies instead of fried donuts?
- Is pasta just once every day ok?
Well no... not at all...
Let's look at some other questions that MyPlate does not answer:
- I have my portion of meat for the day. It is factory-farmed meat, and contains hormones, medicated additives, and antibiotics. But that's ok, right? ...Read more
- I have a lovely plate of fruits, but they are not organic and have been sprayed with pesticides that are illegal in other countries. These pesticides have been directly linked to cancer, ADD, autism, neurological disorders, childhood leukemia, and other chronic diseases. But that's ok, right? ...Read more
- Even though this whole grain bread contains 30 other unpronounceable chemical and artificial ingredients, it's still got the words "whole grains" in the ingredient list. So that's ok, right? ...Read more
- Is caffeine and alcohol good for me? There is no mention that they are bad, so I assume I can have them in whatever quantities I want, right? ...Read more
- All the veggies on my plate are genetically modified, and studies in other countries have conclusively shown GMOs have caused organ damage, infertility, and premature death in animals. The studies don't seem to be publicized in the US and no long-term studies on how GMOs affect humans exist. But that's ok, right? ...Read more
- This food says it is "healthy" and "natural" but the ingredient list is really long and full of chemicals. But it is still healthy and natural, right? ...Read more
Is there any guidance provided in how to read food ingredient labels and recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy ingredients? No... no help there either.
You get the picture. What good is it to tell the public to eat more "whole grains" but not educate them on the subject of what grains are and how to distinguish the good from the bad, or that refined grains should be avoided? What is a whole grain vs. a refined grain? What about whole wheat? What about wheat grain and gluten? In short, Americans have been left to reach their own conclusions on many of their questions.
MyPlate - Have You Heard Of It?
If you ask the average person on the street their opinion on MyPlate, you will probably get a blank face. Why? Because it is not promoted! Little to no money from the multi-trillion dollar annual governmental budget is spent on promoting the government's own MyPlate.
How often have you seen a government-sponsored commercial promoting juicy whole fruits or fresh leafy greens? How about whole grains or nuts? In a nation where the word "natural food coloring" can translate to a combination of over 50 different chemicals, the average consumer is thoroughly confused about whether the product in their hands is healthy or unhealthy. But in the absence of education, the food corporations quickly step up to the plate.
The Impact of These Pyramids & Plates
Unfortunately, the impact of the USDA nutritional guidelines is far-reaching, influencing all government nutrition programs, food marketing and labeling, and also forms the basis of dietary advice and training for:
- The Medical Profession (doctors & hospitals)
- Clinical Nutritionists & Registered Dietitians
- School Lunch Program Creators
- Medical insurance Companies
The education of Certified Nutritionists and Registered Dietitians is based on guidelines established by the government, and these guidelines form the basis of their nutritional advice when working with clients unless they have expanded their training outside the scope of government accredited educational institutions. To their credit, some are doing just that as they have recognized the serious shortcomings of government-endorsed education on nutrition.
Along with the pharmaceutical-controlled healthcare industry, the MyPyramid and MyPlate guidelines have helped pave the path toward skyrocketing rates of obesity and other chronic diseases in America today.
Harvard Goes It Alone - The Harvard Food Pyramid
In recognition of the lack of guidance and education for the latest USDA dietary recommendations, Harvard School of Public Health's Dept. of Nutrition has released their own version of a healthy eating pyramid that puts whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and healthy fats in the base. Red meat, butter, soda, sweets, refined grains, and salt are in the pyramid, but recommended in very small quantities at the tip.
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