The Food Pyramid Debunked: Part II

The Food Pyramid Debunked: Part II

Although you may think you know everything about the food pyramid and healthy nutrition, this follow-up article focuses in on two alternative pyramids worth checking out.

By this time, you've been to the USDA website and checked out their recommendations. Maybe you entered some information to see a pyramid tailored to your diet and exercise habits specifically. But something just doesn't seem right. The pyramid seems to make sense, but all those media criticisms are still in the back of your mind. Lucky for you, we at Recipe4Living had similar suspicions and wanted to take our "investigative reporting" a step further.

Many organizations share this wariness and have taken it upon themselves to redraft the pyramid yet again with their own recommendations. Here are a few of our favorites. Harvard School of Public Health: Department of Nutrition

Utterly dissatisfied with the 2005 Food Guide Pyramid, the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) used the latest research and scientific evidence to construct what they feel is the best guide to eating. Instead of stating their recommendations in serving sizes, they simply say how many times per day a person should eat a particular food group.

As you can see from the pyramid diagram, there are quite a few diversions from the traditional pyramid. However, each group was placed in its rank with a very specific purpose. For a detailed breakdown of the pyramid, visit the HSPH Department of Nutrition's website. Below are just a few of the many health benefits they claim can make a greater impact on your life.

• It has been shown that eating whole-wheat foods better controls blood pressure and insulin, and may even prevent Type 2 Diabetes.

• "The average American gets one third or more of his or her daily calories from fat, so placing them near the foundation of the pyramid makes sense," says the HSPH.

• When you consume vegetable oil instead of highly processed carbohydrates, you can improve your cholesterol and protect against heart problems.

• Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables every day can: decrease chances of heart attack or stroke, lower blood pressure, avoid intestinal ailment (diverticulitis), protect against cataract and macular degeneration (the major cause of vision loss in people over 65-years-old) and protect against a variety of cancers. (Check out Recipe4Living Fruits and Vegetables recipes)

• The HSPH says that "a wealth of research suggests that eating fish can reduce the risk of heart disease."

• In addition to fish, poultry and eggs, nuts and legumes are also excellent sources of protein and some packages even carry labels that say they are good for your heart.

• Although dairy products are important to keep bones strong with calcium and vitamin D, precautions must be taken. For example, three glasses of whole milk contains as much saturated fat as 13 strips of bacon. Choosing low-fat or no-fat dairy products is a smart choice, but the HSPH also recommends daily calcium supplements if dairy products are not your thing.

• According to the HSPH website, switching from butter to olive can improve cholesterol levels, as can replacing a daily red meat product with fish or chicken. (Make the next healthy step by choosing from hundreds of Recipe4Living's Chicken and Fish recipes)

• While it may be surprising to see so many carbohydrate products at the tip of the pyramid, they should be consumed with great caution. They cause drastic increases in blood sugar, which can lead to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and more.

• A multivitamin cannot replace an entire food group, but it can "fill in holes" that you may be missing in your diet. Any RDA-level vitamin that meets the USP requirements is recommended.

• In terms of alcohol, moderation is important, but it has been shown that having an alcoholic drink every day lowers the risk of heart disease.

Oldways

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Taking a less scientific approach to the art of eating, Oldways is a company that promotes eating nutritious, enjoyable, tasty foods that enable you to lead a healthier and happier lifestyle. For over 15 years, Oldways has been a nonprofit "food issues think tank" concerned with the growing levels of junk food, processed food and obesity in the United States.

Oldways created a program called EatWise as an alternative to the crazy "yo-yo" diets and unhealthy junk food of today's society. The EatWise pyramid shuffles the food groups around, yet again, in an attempt to find the perfect balance. As you can see from the picture, daily physical activity seems to be the only thing everyone agrees on as the base of the pyramid. Above that, the pyramid is broken into three sections indicating how often to eat the specific foods: daily, weekly and monthly as they ascend. (You can differentiate in the picture by the small dotted line that separates them.) Like the HSPH, EatWise is less concerned with serving sizes and more with the frequency that foods are being eaten.

EatWise places the red meat category at the tip of the pyramid, similar to the HSPH pyramid, which is a large digression from the USDA guide. EatWise also includes six to eight glasses of water each day as well as alcohol in moderation.

Though the changes may seem minor, Oldways firmly believes that a reversion back to the "old ways" of eating and thinking about food is key to a healthy lifestyle. Expanding on this idea, they have also created four other programs that focus on ingredients and foods from different geographical regions. See the Oldways website for detailed pyramids designed adults and children for each of the programs.

Mediterranean Diet: These recommendations are rooted in research done in a specific region of the Mediterranean that was found to have the lowest recorded rates of chronic disease and the highest rates of life expectancy.

Some foods you will eat include:

- Pasta, couscous, polenta, potatoes

- Olives, avocados, grapes

- Spinach, eggplant, peppers, mushrooms, legumes, nuts, garlic, capers

- Cheese, yogurt

- Shellfish, sardines

- Chicken, veal, lamb

- Eggs

- Pastries, ice cream, cookies

Latin American Diet: When designing this diet, Oldways took into account two important historical factors: the habitation of the Incas, Mayans and Aztecs in the region and the later dietary traditions that emerged after Columbus and his explorers came to the area. Today's Latin American cuisine is a fusion of both of these important historical events.

Some foods you will eat include:

- Maize, potatoes, taro, tortillas, arepas, black beans, quinoa, peanuts, cassava, sweet potatoes, garbanzo beans

- Limes, bananas, avocados, cacao, breadfruit, plums, cherimoya, guanabana, pineapple, tamarind, guava

- Kale, cactus, eggplant, turnip, chard, zucchini, tomatillos, chilies, okra

- Plant oils (soy, corn, olive), milk, cheese

- Shrimp, salmon, snapper, mussels

- Fowl, turkey, chicken, meat

- Sweets

- Eggs

Asian Diet: According to Oldways, there are eight separate flavors that go into Asian cooking, which are influences from around the region such as Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese and Hong Kong. All these exciting aromas and tastes combine to make this diet.

Some foods you will eat include:

- Pineapples, bananas, mangos, watermelon, grapes, pears, tangerines

- Carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, bok choy, bamboo shoots, cabbage, chilies, bean sprouts

- Rice, noodles, breads, millet

- Soybeans, peanuts, dried beans, edamame beans, miso, tofu

- Vegetable oils, fish/shellfish

- Eggs

- Poultry, pork, red meat

- Ice cream, sorbet

Vegetarian Diet: What makes this diet noteworthy is the way it is designed to be a way of life or just a model. If you are committed to becoming a vegetarian, this diet helps make the transition as simple as possible. However, if you simply want to incorporate more vegetarian-like habits into your lifestyle, you can do that too.

Some foods you will eat include:

- Oats, wheat, rice, buckwheat, flax, bulgur, quinoa, noodles, couscous, grain bread, rye, pita

- Grapes, raisins, pears, avocados, oranges, melon, apples, bananas, plums

- Mushrooms, tomatoes, kale, broccoli, sweet potatoes, chick peas, carrots, leeks, squash, tofu,

- Eggs

- Soy milk, cheese, yogurt

- Pine nuts, walnuts, pistachios, Brazil nuts, pecan, almonds, sesame, cashews, pumpkin seeds

- Corn oil, canola oil, olive oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, peanut oil

- Pie, custard, ice cream, cake, cookies



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