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Why Does The Food Pyramid Include Meat?

A food pyramid is a simple visual representation of what was considered the optimal number of servings to be eaten each day from each of the basic food groups. The first pyramid was published in Sweden in 1974 to help people eat well with a small amount of money. The food pyramid was adopted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1992 and was called the "Food Guide Pyramid" or "Eating Right Pyramid".

food pyramid, usda
The food pyramid, from the USDA. Why does the vegetable group have so much fat? Fruit has added sugar?

Eating chart, food pyramid, basic seven
The Original Basic Seven Plate

The primary objective of the food pyramid was to promote health. The World Health Organization, working with the Food and Agriculture Organization, published dietary guidelines to prevent obesity, improper nutrition, chronic diseases and poor dental health. The food groups that they used are similar to the USDA pyramid, however, the focus is strictly on health, the USDA guidelines are more loose. When the food pyramid was first developed it was believed to be a healthful way to eat, it is now understood that it is not good and, in practice, could be harmful to health.

The First Food Guide Pyramid

The original Food Guide Pyramid was made up of six blocks. The base consisted of grains and carbohydrates, 6–11 servings of bread, rice, pasta, etc. On the level above this, to one side, was the fruit section, 2–4 servings, with vegetables on the other side, 3–5 servings group. Above this were the dairy group, milk, cheese and yoghurt, 2–3 servings, and the protein group, including meat, eggs, nuts, and beans, 2–3 servings. The small top section of the pyramid was the fats group, with the advice being to "use sparingly". This eating guide was designed to maximise the amount of calories people could get for their money as the economy and families were poor at the time. However, as this way of eating starting to take it's toll on the population, doctors and scientists started to re-evaluate the recommendations.

This food guide was extremely carb heavy, partly because carbohydrates are cheap to produce compared to other food groups, but also because of pressure from the grain industry to promote their products. The food guide drew no distinction between wholegrains and processed grains, leaving people to eat almost unlimited amounts of refined grains, such as white bread and pasta, and believe that they were eating a healthy diet. At the time of publication an accompanying booklet was released, it explained how a "serving" should actually be measured. For example, the booklet stated that a single bagel, which would be looked at as one serving of grain was actually somewhere between six and 11 servings.

The Inclusion of Meat and Dairy

Dairy products, produced from cows as well as other animals cows, included milk and had been considered vital to good health at the time of development of the food guide. Products like milk, yogurt and cheese are a source of dietary calcium and also provide protein, phosphorus and vitamin A. However, many dairy products are high in saturated fat and cholesterol and are not compatible with human digestion. Most of the world's population cannot digest milk sugar and have health problems because of this, something that is still ignored to this day. Adults were told to consume three servings of dairy products per day in the 1990's, but, more recently, there is increasing amounts of evidence that dairy products cause more health problems than they prevent. One example is that the number of bone fractures people experience increases with the mount of dairy they consume in several studies. Dairy is also associated with eczema, acne, asthma and other diseases.

Meat was included for the same reason as dairy, it is a source of nutrients and a dense source of calories. In more modern food pyramids the "meat" section has become a "protein" section and now includes meat alternatives such as beans and tofu. This change came about as the number of people suffering from type II diabetes, heart disease, strokes and dementia increased, massively after the publications of the guidelines. The link between certain dietary choices and heart disease were yet to become well known. An example is that eating an 8 oz (230 g) serving of hamburger daily was technically allowed with the original pyramid, something that is now considered dangerous for your health. The pyramid drew no difference between foods within the protein-rich group, such as meat, nuts and beans, this was not considered an accident. After were objections raised by the meat and dairy industry concerning the position of theirs foods in the pyramid the chart it was removed altogether and replaced with the Eating Right Pyramid. This new pyramid was designed to keep the meat and dairy companies happy, rather than keeping the population healthy.

Other Problems

The recommended quantities for the different types of food in the original pyramid were vague, giving a range of servings, but no ideal number of servings. For example, the pyramid recommends two to three servings from the protein group, meat, eggs, beans, but this was meant to be a maximum. The pyramid states that people should eat two to four fruit servings, but this should have been the minimum.

There have been several books and studies published that have made claims that food and agricultural associations exert undue political power on the USDA. Food industries, such as milk companies, have been accused of influencing the United States Department of Agriculture into making some sections on the food pyramid larger for their particular product. The milk section has been claimed to be the easiest to see out of the six sections of the pyramid. This raises concerns that people will believe that more milk should be consumed on a daily basis compared to the other foods. Also the inclusion of milk as a group of its own implies that it is an essential part of a healthy diet. Joel Fuhrman, in his book Eat to Live, says that U.S. taxpayers give the American government $20 billion to each year to allow for subsidies to be paid to the dairy, beef and veal industries, and then pay the medical bills for an overweight and sick population. He asks if the USDA is under the influence of the food industry, because a food pyramid based on science would have vegetables at its foundation.



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