The new USDA food guide pyramid

Eat Like an Egyptian


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It will soon become part of turn-of-the-century nostalgia. In 2055, oldtimers will ask, “Remember that old USDA Food Guide Pyramid?”

Of course, one way to ensure that you’ll live long enough to BECOME an oldtimer is to ignore most of the dietary advice that’s been graphically depicted for the past 13 years in the Food Guide Pyramid.

Soon, however, we’ll have a new graphic to ignore. A revised Pyramid will be unveiled this coming spring, and there’s speculation that an entirely different graphic image will be employed to illustrate the new food guidelines that were recently announced.

Whatever the new image may be, this much is certain: The USDA is still mired in several key dietary misconceptions that it just can’t seem to shake.

Brain food

The new USDA guidelines don’t have it ALL wrong. They’re mostly accurate on the “no-brainer” topics. For instance, the guidelines recommend that everyone get exercise every day. For most of us that certainly couldn’t hurt. But most experts we’ve spoken to agree daily exercise isn’t required, as long as we get moving regularly. So the 60 minutes per day suggested by the guidelines is excessive.

The recommendation to simply eat as much as you need rather than all you can is good advice. Studies show that Americans aren’t content to eat their fill; as a nation we tend to gorge ourselves. If that gorging was done on mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, we might not be in bad shape. But our collective shape tends to be obese because the gorging is done on mostly processed foods that contain plenty of simple carbohydrates.

And speaking of fruits and vegetables, the new guidelines rightly encourage more consumption. The importance of whole grains is also emphasized. (You can’t help but wonder if General Mills had some influence here. GM recently announced that within the next couple of months, all GM cereal products (including Lucky Charms, for Pete’s sake!) will be converted from processed flour to whole grain. Whether TRUE whole grain will actually be used is another matter. See the e-Alert “Trix or Treats” – 10/12/04.)

But again, these are no-brainers. When it comes to more complex dietary issues – call them “brainers” – the new guidelines have something in common with previous guideline revisions: they just don’t get it.

Staff of life

The new guidelines recommend consuming three or more ounces of whole-grain products per day. Okay, I’m all for that. But it’s followed with this: “with the rest of the recommended grains coming from enriched or whole-grain products.” Of course, the key word here is “enriched.” An example of an “enriched product” is white bread that has nutrients added. Enrich it all you want; white bread is not good nutrition. Period.

And then there’s milk. The guidelines not only suggest consuming three cups of milk or milk products each day, but they also say you should avoid raw, unpasteurized milk. Just one problem: they’ve got it backwards. As we’ve seen in previous e-Alerts (“The Milkman Cometh” 12/22/04), if you MUST drink milk, the most nutritious form is raw milk. In the words of HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D.: “Pasteurized, homogenized milk does not qualify as food in my opinion.”

The guidelines also recommend that milk intake should be restricted to fat-free (“skim” milk) or low-fat milk. But is this good nutrition? According to Dr. Spreen the skimming process actually makes the nutrients in milk (such as calcium) more difficult to absorb.

Fear of fat

And finally, the guidelines are sticking to the completely overblown fear of saturated fat intake. Here’s the recommendation: “Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids.” Gee are saturated fats really all that scary? In a word: No.

Last September, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition carried a remarkable overview of studies that have examined saturated fat intake. Here are some of the results found by researchers with the Department of Food Science and Technology, University of California, Davis (UC):


  • One analysis of 50 years of research on the link between saturated fat intake and heart health found no evidence that a low-fat diet prolongs life
  • Results of studies on the association of saturated fat intake with atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease were found to be “inconclusive or even contradictory”
  • To state flatly that saturated fat causes heart disease is to ignore the many common factors that have been shown CONCLUSIVELY to contribute to heart disease, such as an intake of carbohydrates with high glycemic index, smoking, obesity, diabetes, a family history of heart disease, high homocysteine, high C-reactive protein, lack of exercise, oxidative stress and high blood pressure
  • Abstaining from saturated fats has not been shown to lower the incidence of coronary disease or total mortality
  • Beyond the fact that fatty acids are essential to all the tissues of the body, there is no conclusive evidence that a low-fat diet prevents obesity or cardiovascular disease

In short, the new USDA guidelines are guaranteed to perpetuate some of the most stubborn myths about fat intake and general nutrition. In five years these guidelines will get another overhaul, and a lot can happen in five years. Who knows? Maybe they’ll get it right in 2010.


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and another thing

Ready to rumble?

Many HSI members have written to ask how they can become more involved in opposing government efforts to put unnecessary restrictions on dietary supplements. Now here’s your chance.

The FDA is currently reviewing the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act (DSHEA). In a nutshell, DSHEA classifies and regulates dietary supplements as food.

Under DSHEA, the FDA and the FTC regulate the manufacturing of supplements, as well as labeling and advertising. And yet critics of DSHEA would have you believe that the act doesn’t regulate supplements at all.

What they’re really saying is that DSHEA doesn’t regulate supplements in the same way that drugs are regulated. In fact, DSHEA has been a boon for the supplement industry, by not hampering the manufacture of supplements with unnecessary regulations.

But now the FDA is considering new regulations that could restrict access to dietary ingredients and supplements that were not on the market when DSHEA was first passed in 1994. Currently the FDA is accepting comments from the public on this matter until February 1, 2005.

If you’d like to voice your opinion about these regulations, an organization called Health Action Center (HAC) has made it very easy to do so. The HAC web site ( has provided a simple way to send an e-mail to encourage the FDA to not create new regulations that would violate the original intent of DSHEA.

If the FDA decides to propose these new regulations, the process required to introduce new dietary supplements may become so convoluted and expensive that manufacturers would be discouraged or simply incapable of bringing new products to market.

So the time to act is now. Join with me in writing the FDA to let them know that we support DSHEA and our freedom to access a wide range of dietary supplements.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute



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“Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005” U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1/11/05,

“U.S. Updates Diet Rules for Next Food Pyramid” Maria Newman, The New York Times, 1/12/05,

“Saturated Fats: What Dietary Intake?” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 80, No. 3, September 2004,