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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 01/11/2011

Federal Food Pyramid prompts a lawsuit by PCRM

By Jennifer LaRue Huget
Click to view the site

Checkup readers responded with characteristic verve a few weeks ago when I wrote about the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine's list of the worst cookbooks of 2010. True to its pro-vegetarian stance, PCRM gave the thumbs-down to those that focused on meat-based recipes and those containing lots of saturated fats. Not all of you agreed with PCRM's opinions.

So I wonder what you all will think of the committee's decision last week to sue the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services for allegedly overlooking science, and for shunning PCRM's alternative healthful-eating graphic, when devising the Food Pyramid.

The PCRM-preferred "Power Plate" is admittedly a much simpler scheme than the MyPyramid (the federal government's current iteration of the Food Pyramid): It shows a plate divided into four food groups -- fruits, grains, legumes and vegetables. Followers of the Power Plate are asked to eat a variety of those foods daily. (You can click on each of the food groups for lists of foods in that group and ideas for working them into your diet.)

There have been many other takes on the Food Pyramid: I kind of like the Mediterranean version devised in 1993 by Oldways, the Harvard School of Public Health and the European Office of the World Health Organization. But it's a difficult task, translating complicated nutrition information into a clear and straightforward graphic that even a schoolchild can understand. It's an even more daunting task to get anyone to pay attention to your graphic or to follow its guidance in real life.

The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 will soon be upon us, along with, presumably, a new Pyramid of some sort. As PCRM rightly points out, the nutrition and weight-control scene in America hasn't exactly improved since the first Food Pyramid was introduced in 1992, with two-thirds of Americans now overweight or obese. PCRM argues that a plant-based diet -- such as is depicted in the Power Plate -- would serve Americans, and their waistlines, far better than does the Pyramid.

All of this makes me wonder how many people really use MyPyramid to guide their dietary choices. My kids were dutifully taught about the Pyramid in school health class -- and, apparently, promptly forgot all about it. Even though there's an app for that, they pay it no heed. Would they pay any more attention to the Power Plate? I have my doubts.

How big a role does the federal government's Food Pyramid/MyPyramid play in your life and that of your family? Please vote in today's poll!

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | January 11, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Dietary Guidelines, Family Health, Kids' health, Nutrition and Fitness, Obesity  
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We've done some research on MyPyramid usage in our annual Food & Health survey and found that not that many people use it. About 76% of people said they've heard of it, but of those, 71% said they have not used it. More details are here:

-Eric Mittenthal
Media Relations Director
International Food Information Council Foundation

Posted by: mittenthal | January 11, 2011 9:05 AM | Report abuse

I still use the 4 basic food groups as a guideline and stick to the plate graphic of half veg, 1/4 good carbs and 1/4 lean protein.

Posted by: readerl | January 11, 2011 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Challenge for the health and food sections of the WaPo: Work together to come up with one week of family-friendly menus (breakfast, lunch, dinner, beverages and snacks) that provide all the recommended daily allowance of all vitamins and nutrients (no supplements), while following all of the guidelines in the food pyramid, while avoiding or limiting all of the bad things we are supposed to avoid, and getting enough water, fiber, etc. Then give us a price tag for that week of meals (serving a family of four - two adults, one teen and one 8 year old) and tell us how long it took for you to come up with the menu. Also, tell us where you got the information on what to include and what to cut out (avocados, eggs, butter - good or bad?). Don't forget to give us the nutritional info - calories, fat (good, bad or indifferent), fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc.

Maybe it's too hard or maybe we will find out it is not as hard as it looks.

I look forward to seeing that. :-)

Posted by: readerl | January 11, 2011 9:34 AM | Report abuse

I like that the Power Plate graphic stands on its own. I don’t have to go to a website to see that I should be eating equal amounts of fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans. When I look at the MyPyramid graphic I have no idea what I should be eating! Then I go to the MyPyramid website and see that it recommends that I eat the same amount of vegetables as dairy products, like chocolate milk and ice cream. Makes no sense.

Posted by: Wally7 | January 11, 2011 10:36 AM | Report abuse

The PCRM lawsuit also claims the food pyramid is racially biased and corrupted by food industry interests. So far, the courts have agreed.
The Food Pyramid is Illegal. And Racist.

Posted by: janicebethgregg | January 11, 2011 12:14 PM | Report abuse

The PCRM lawsuit also claims the food pyramid is racially biased and corrupted by food industry interests. So far, the courts have agreed.
The Food Pyramid is Illegal. And Racist.

Posted by: janicebethgregg | January 11, 2011 12:15 PM | Report abuse

I really do think people would pay more attention to the Power Plate. It's SO simple, you can memorize it in about 3 seconds, and then remember it when you're preparing meals. It makes nutrition easy. I would much rather have this graphic in classrooms than the food pyramid, which is an attempt to brainwash kids into thinking they need unhealthy meat and dairy products in their diets.

Posted by: allisonjc | January 11, 2011 12:24 PM | Report abuse choices for a healthy guidelines are the agribusiness-paid for biased program or the anti-meat activist biased program?


What is secret option C?

Posted by: byte1 | January 11, 2011 1:42 PM | Report abuse choices for a healthy guidelines are the agribusiness-paid for biased program or the anti-meat activist biased program?


What is secret option C?

Posted by: byte1 | January 11, 2011 1:43 PM | Report abuse

@allisonjc: Meats are just as unhealthy as overeating on fatty legumes like peanuts or really fatty vegetables (both high in protein) like avocados. One type of food - "meat and dairy" - is not unhealthy on its face just because it's meat and dairy. There are non-healthy vegetarian/vegan (hey..."sugar" is all-natural) foods out there.

Posted by: byte1 | January 11, 2011 1:46 PM | Report abuse

I think back to my college nutrition class and create family menus based on the recommended breakdown of carbs, protein, and fats. While this approach may not be practical for the average American, it seems that there can be a much simpler breakdown of what's in those categories, and how to mix & match them for healthy eating. Not all dairy, meat, vegetable, and grain products are created equal--the nutritional content varies widely--so we need to be teaching everyone how to figure out the value of the foods on their own, rather than assigning everything blindly to categories.

Posted by: OneSockOn | January 11, 2011 3:12 PM | Report abuse

To each his own. Each body is different, some people are vegetarian/vegan by all means as their system would rather eat vegetable protein and avoid milk. Some people are allergic to certain food groups, gluten or nuts. I say, let us make our decision on our own, neither pyramid or plate are correct for each person. I agree that the power plate works quite well for me. The rest of my family has followed the 'my food pyramid' amidst my decision to become a vegan. Therefore, try all foods, introduce yourself to healthier options, and find out what YOU should do. Learn about why veganism is healthier, why it is "green", and how it affects your body. I am not saying that all things vegan are healthier, as there are many "comfort foods" that are vegan, however, overall a plant-based diet is the way to go if you want to get more nutrients in your diet.

Your Complete Source for Senior Care

Posted by: GeriCareFinder | January 11, 2011 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Each body is different - it`s right!!!
I resolve to eat more greens just about everyday. Fortunately, I really like eating spinach and broccoli, and I love collards and kale if they're prepared properly.

Posted by: radchenkoleonid | January 13, 2011 4:56 PM | Report abuse

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