In 1992 the U.S. Department of Agriculture officially released the Food Guide Pyramid, which was intended to help the American public make dietary choices that would maintain good health and reduce the risk of chronic disease. The recommendations embodied in the pyramid soon became well known: people should minimize their consumption of fats and oils but should eat six to 11 servings a day of foods rich in complex carbohydrates--bread, cereal, rice, pasta and so on. The food pyramid also recommended generous amounts of vegetables (including potatoes, another plentiful source of complex carbohydrates), fruit and dairy products, and at least two servings a day from the meat and beans group, which lumped together red meat with poultry, fish, nuts, legumes and eggs.
Even when the pyramid was being developed, though, nutritionists had long known that some types of fat are essential to health and can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, scientists had found little evidence that a high intake of carbohydrates is beneficial. Since 1992 more and more research has shown that the USDA pyramid is grossly flawed. By promoting the consumption of all complex carbohydrates and eschewing all fats and oils, the pyramid provides misleading guidance. In short, not all fats are bad for you, and by no means are all complex carbohydrates good for you. The USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion is now reassessing the pyramid, but this effort is not expected to be completed until 2004. In the meantime, we have drawn up a new pyramid that better reflects the current understanding of the relation between diet and health. Studies indicate that adherence to the recommendations in the revised pyramid can signif- icantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease for both men and women.
This article was originally published with the title Rebuilding the Food Pyramid.