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The Food Pyramid vs the Paleo Diet

Every few years, the government issues a new “food pyramid” as a guide for all of us who want to eat healthy.

I usually don’t pay any attention.

This is because I am very skeptical of their advice.

When I was a child, we learned about the Four Food Groups: Meat, Milk, Cereal and Bread, and Fruit and Vegetables.

We were to eat 2 servings of meat, 2 of milk, 4 of bread and 4 from the fruit and vegetables group.

Then the government decided this one wasn’t right and came up with another pyramid.

This one recommended 2-3 servings of meat (or poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs or nuts), 2-3 of milk (or cheese or yogurt), 2-4 of fruit, 3-5 of vegetables, and an astounding 6 to 11 servings of bread or whole grains.

Even before this one was introduced in 1992, there was controversy over it. Some experts said that if people followed the guidelines, we’d have an obesity epidemic on our hands (or waistlines).

Seems to me those experts were right.

So that food pyramid was replaced by another one. This one advised that we all eat several servings of grain products a day. Fats, oils and sweets were lumped together at the top, with the advice to limit their consumption.

Really? Fats high in Omega-3 fatty acids and all their wonderful health benefits are in the same category as sugary, empty calorie desserts?

This new pyramid isn’t much better. It recommends 6 ounces of grain products. That’s the equivalent of 6 slices of bread. I’m cringing thinking of how much weight I’d gain if I ate even four slices of bread a day.

It also recommends three cups of dairy. Every day.

And the whole thing is based on a 2000 calorie diet. I’d have to do a lot of math to try to adjust the recommendations down to about 1500 or 1600 calories so I could maintain my weight.

Not that I’m a conspiracy theorist or anything, but I’m a little suspicious of whether or not food lobbyists had anything to do with the recommendations.

Now we have My Plate. It’s a bit of an improvement, separating fruits and vegetables, grains, proteins and putting dairy in a fifth group.

But there still are problems. This one lumps starchy vegetables in with other vegetables, as if they are equally good for you. It recommends 4 to 5 cups of starchy vegetables per week for women. Plus a cup or cup and a half of beans.

In contrast, the recommendation for green leafy vegetables? A measly cup and a half per week.

Are they kidding? No wonder there’s a weight problem in this country.

And after several revisions to the government recommendations, which often contradict each other, I have to wonder if the “experts” really know what they’re talking about.

Especially since there is a growing body of research that tells us that grain products can be bad for our health. A big reason is that the grain products we typically consume are made of refined flours. These flours typically have no nutritional value and have been linked to insulin resistance, heart disease and obesity. The bread and pasta we eat are also often loaded with simple sugars and preservatives, two things that can wreak havoc with your health.

This is why low-carb diets have become so popular. They work. They are based in actual fact. The South Beach Diet, the Seventeen Day Diet, and the Paleo Diet all remove or limit the biggest threats to your health, namely the grain-based foods.

Another benefit of the Paleo Diet in particular is that it emphasizes eating food that is unprocessed, such as fruit, vegetables or animal products such as meat or eggs. The idea is that unprocessed foods retain more of their vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are good for our health. Unprocessed foods are also freer of complex chemicals that don’t occur in nature, which could be harmful to our long-term health.

But wait, you say. Do I really have to give up all grains, meaning bread or pasta for life? And what about cake?

Not to worry. Most diets meant to be followed for the long haul allow you a meal or a day each week you can indulge yourself (within reason) with a piece of bread or pie. Or whatever you’ve been craving.

Also, there are some tasty recipes out there for a wide variety of yummy desserts, all that adhere to the paleo guidelines. Think about almond biscuits. Or fruit sorbet. Blueberry crumble. Chocolate cake.

You can check out more about the Paleo Diet here.

And did I mention that on the Paleo Diet you can even have bacon?