Lies My Teacher Told Me: The First Thanksgiving, States’ Rights, and…the Food Pyramid?

Kitty Geoghan, Section Editor - The Reporter

Remember the food pyramid? That cute little illustration in your elementary school textbooks dominated the American diet for decades. It was later redesigned as a plate split into sections like a pie, but the basic food groups and recommendations remained the same. Its daily prescription included specific amounts of the different food groups – grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, proteins, and fats/sweets, with each successive category receiving a slightly smaller chunk of your overall daily intake. Grains were the largest category, with anywhere between 6-11 recommended servings per day. Fats, oils, and sweets took up only the tiniest part of the top of the pyramid.



Makes sense, right? Too much fat will make you fat, and things like bread, rice, and pasta are surely good for you. Unfortunately, however, the Food Pyramid leaves out a lot of important nutritional information. The original USDA pyramid was primarily developed based on false scientific premises. The idea was to discourage excessive fat consumption, then considered to be the primary cause of heart disease, and instead encourage a high-carbohydrate diet rich in grains. The problem is, the science doesn’t point to carbs as a healthy alternative for fats. In fact, a diethigh in refined carbs may actually be worse for you than a diet high in fat. But for agricultural companies that make money off of selling grains, that kind of diet plan is bad for business. They wanted a way to make grains look good and encourage health-conscious Americans to buy their products. Thus, the Food Pyramid was born.


One of the biggest pitfalls of the Food Pyramid is its oversimplification of basic food groups. While it’s true that Frosted Flakes and whole wheat bread are both technically grains, the complex carbs found in wheat bread are a whole lot more healthy than the sugary cereals marketed to kids. Even white bread, which is healthier than cereal, has had most of its nutritional value stripped away during the refining process, leaving behind pure simple carbohydrates that elevate cholesterol and contain a ton of empty calories. Throwing all of these foods under the category of “grains” and instructing kids to eat 6-11 servings per day essentially tells kids that eating 11 bowls of cereal every day is healthier than, say, 11 apples with peanut butter. And that just isn’t true…


So, with all that said, what kind of diet should you really be eating? In light of new nutritional research, Harvard University developed its own version of the new plate-themed food guide, with a greater focus on vegetables and more specific examples of what to eat and avoid from each group.


Interestingly, this plate includes no dairy, and explicitly suggests limiting dairy consumption to 1-2 servings per day. Despite the USDA’s consistent emphasis on milk, science actuallysuggests that the health risks of dairy may outweigh any possible benefits. Considering the fact that 75% of the world’s population can’t even properly digest lactose, there’s a pretty good case for eliminating it from our diets entirely. But again, that fact doesn’t help the dairy industry, and their recommendations in the Food Pyramid reflect that.


Yet again, we have an example of science being ignored in order to push an agenda, this time an economic one. The problem here is that this particular agenda has affected millions of people, potentially encouraging a lifestyle which can lead to life-threatening disease. If you’re looking for advice about what to put into your body, a good rule of thumb is to avoid listening to anyone who might be trying to sell you something. When it comes to your health, you can’t afford to put your faith in pseudoscience.