The food pyramid is a commonly recognized cartoon derived from a table of values determined by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). A well-known image (right), the food pyramid recommends bulk servings of unrefined carbohydrates per day (nearly 300 grams) as the majority of caloric consumption, while keeping fats and oils to sparing minimum. While the WHO has updated its stance to focusing on reducing “free sugars, saturated fats, and trans-fats,” the precedence that has been set by the food pyramid remains intact and as strong as ever.
Due to the somewhat controversial nature of scientific data concerning the long term effects of different diets, the WHO and FAO–along with websites like WebMD–hold a very strong influence on the ideas of what people consider to be “healthy” foods. Unfortunately these dieting principles set forth by such organizations and the food pyramid heavily disagree with the knowledge that we do have about the way the body responds to different nutrients as well as fundamental evolutionary theories. We have recognized these contradictions between dieting recommendations and scientific knowledge for some time, and have decided that the world need be better educated on this topic in a way that is simplest to understand. Here’s a food pyramid that is a little bit more reasonable.
Justifications from top to bottom:
Grains and grain products: The most confounding idea of the old food pyramid is the fact that sweets are to be avoided, while whole grains are to be consumed in generous amounts. “Unrefined” carbohydrates contain everything that their refined siblings have and more–how can one be considered healthy while the other is forbidden? In fact, you can make a very strong argument that unrefined carbohydrates are worse for you than refined carbohydrates! “Whole grain” foods contain gluten, the substance that makes your breads doughy, chewy, and delicious. Interestingly, the word gluten actually means “glue” in Latin. Gluten is a composite of gliadin and glutenin—both of which are anti-immunogenic anti-nutrients, meaning they bind to beneficial nutrients in your diet and prevent you from digesting them. And don’t even get me started on lectins and phytates. There’s a reason we aren’t good at digesting these gluten components of whole grains… They didn’t even exist until about 10,000 years ago! For the majority of human history, we have never been exposed to these weird cereal plants. “What about fiber?” you might inquire. While early studies hinted at a beneficial role for fiber, more recent studies have called this association into question. And besides, if you eat your veggies and nuts you will get more than enough fiber. Frankly, there is no reason to ever eat any grain product other than a social obligation; if you absolutely must eat carbs, have a small serving of white rice or potatoes.
Fruits: After carbs, we are going to see a much smaller warning label. Fruits have long been touted to be an “unlimited consumption” food group. They’re always good for you—eat as much as you possibly can, right? Wrong, but don’t be alarmed; the red flag here is more of a faint pink and it’s the size of a napkin. Fruits are indeed packed with loads of valuable nutrients and vitamins that make them a relevant food group, but the amount of fructose—the kind of sugar that your liver hates—in certain fruits can be quite high. Also, much of the good stuff in fruits can be found in vegetables that don’t have the huge fructose content. Fruits are definitely okay to eat, but please don’t go full Johnny Appleseed, and please do not ever think it is okay to pound a glass of fruit juice. Slamming a carton of orange juice is no better than drinking soda: both have inordinate amounts of sugar.
Meat: This is one of your three primary food groups. Meat is your primary source of protein, saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and cholesterol. Certain saturated fats, like certain unsaturated fats, are extremely important for you. Atherosclerosis (heart-attack) caused by the build-up of plaques in the lining of arteries, has absolutely no connection to dietary intake of saturated fat or cholesterol. If you take the time to review the scientific literature, you will find no evidence that saturated fat has anything to do with heart disease!. Additionally, essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (unsaturated fats) are generously provided by meats, especially fish. Please eat fish. Cold-water fish are the gold standard of healthy meat and should be eaten as much as possible. And please, please stop removing the egg yolks! Eggs are one of the wholesome, nutrient-filled foods you can possible eat—stop gouging out their amazing yellow souls.
Nuts & Seeds: This the second of your three primary food groups. Nuts and seeds are delightfully good for you, great for snacking, and delicious. Nuts and seeds are packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and essential fats. Replace all of your usual snack foods with some almonds, walnuts, pecans, flax seeds, or sunflower seeds, and you will see a noticeable uptick in your health. If you aren’t sold on nuts and seeds, just google “nuts and seeds and preventing cancer,” there is a goldmine of solid, scientific justification for the integration of nuts and seeds into daily eating. However, don’t be that guy that eats the entire Costco bag of almonds. While nuts are very nutritious, they do have low levels of compounds known as phytic acid which are only detrimental when consumed in high amounts. Note: peanuts are not nuts, they are legumes.
Vegetables: Veggies can cover every single nutritional need except protein and fat. If you’re worried that the life of a rabbit eating raw lettuce and carrot strips isn’t for you, don’t be afraid to cook your veggies! I’ve yet to try something sautéed in olive oil and minced garlic that I haven’t liked. There’s a lot of garbage on the internet about how heating things ruins the nutritional value–nonsense. At worst, you lose a small bit but enjoying your food will make you eat more of it–a worthy tradeoff. There is no substitute for enjoying the foods that are good for you. Limit your high-starch veggies like potatoes and squashes, but feel free to go batshit crazy on your asparagus, avocado, spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli, zucchini, onions, and cabbage. Note: legumes (alfalfa, peas, beans, lentils, soybeans, and peanuts) do not belong in this category. While legumes aren’t in the skull and crossbones category like grains are, they should be avoided whenever possible. Legumes contain phytates and lectins like grains do, not to mention they are extremely toxic in their raw state. It should be common sense to avoid things that have to be specially prepared just to be non-toxic.
A general rule of thumb: the total number of calories is not what is important in a diet; it is the balance of nutritional components that should be monitored. Eating massive amounts of carbs gets you to start playing what I like to call “the blood sugar game.” Basically you eat a meal high in carbs, you feel really full and sleepy and then all of a sudden you’re hungry again in 2 hours. Sound familiar? Replacing carbs in your diet with fats gives you a greater feeling of satiety. Don’t worry about counting calories, just follow this simple rule: eat when you’re hungry and don’t when you’re not. Variations to proportions of food groups eaten can definitely be necessary depending on the individual’s needs, and don’t forget that there is huge spectrum of nutritional value between individual foods in a food group. A beef filet mignon does not equate to a grilled filet of salmon.
What I can guarantee for you is that if you are currently following the WHO/FAO food pyramid as the general guide to your eating habits, changing to the TGL food pyramid will give you more energy, reduce the risk of illness, improve the quality of your skin, hair, and nails, slow down oxidative DNA damage (reduce aging), and eliminate cravings for grains.We don’t want to be constantly thinking about food at the expense of other fun and interesting things we might be doing. The bottom line is that this isn’t a “fad” dieting recommendation. The purpose of changing what you eat is not to lose weight for a little while and then go back to being a carbohydrate vacuum cleaner. These are legitimate life long changes that can drastically improve your health as well as free up time from worrying about food. Do yourself a favor and educate your friends, family, coworkers, and whoever else you know so that they, like you, can live a healthier life. Get #geared with us. We don’t want to have to worry about food anymore, let’s evolve past it.
The Geared Life Team