Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Food Guide Pyramid Is Not For Everyone

This is going to be a controversial post, I can already tell, because people hold government literature close to their heart. The government allows for lead and carcinogens in food. If you trust them with your health standards, that's your decision. If I don't, isn't that mine?

The Food Guide Pyramid is the Frugal Way

Grains are the cheapest food around. If you are getting the suggested amount of grains in your diet, especially with food made from scratch, you are on the right path toward frugality. As you go up the food guide pyramid, the foods get more expensive as they get more restricted. Vegetables, then fruits, are the next cheapest. As you get into meat and dairy, you are facing your most expensive foods, so as someone frugal, it is good advice to limit those. If you came here looking for a frugal tip for today, that was it.

Is It The Only Healthy Way?

Many people thrive eating by the food guide pyramid, and that's great. Most Americans don't live by the food guide pyramid, and many would do better if they did.

There are people in America that are thriving on diets other than the food guide pyramid, though. We have a growing number of vegans and vegetarians that our country recognizes as quite healthy. They cut out many sources of proteins and some even cut out the whole dairy category. We also have a low-carb movement, where a whole group of people cut out the grains and fruit from their diet. They are thriving on that diet.

Many people around the world have thrived on other diets, completely different from what the food guide pyramid promotes. Now, we have changed those diets for many, bringing in our processed foods with our industrialization. I think many Americans would be surprised at the high fat and protein diets that people lived on around the world until recently (Sub-Saharan Africa, Japan, Australia, Native America, England, Korea).

Is The Food Guide Pyramid For My Husband And I?

No. For our own health reasons, we are opting for a much higher protein diet. About half of what we eat is animal protein. I only publish my dinner menu, which is the meal we all share, so it is a compromise between our diet and the kids' diet. Most, but not all, of the carbs that my husband and I have throughout the day are in the dinner menu. For us, carbs include grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans, which are lumped with proteins in the food guide pyramid. My husband and I do not get the recommended amount of fruit, vegetables or grains. I get more fruits and vegetables than he does; he gets more grains than I do.

The "why," as well as the budgetary implications, behind our diets will be its own post some day. This post, though, is in response to assumptions that my children aren't being fed properly. I do take a prenatal vitamin to make sure I am getting the vitamins I need for my baby.

Is The Food Guide Pyramid For My Kids?

Yes and no. The food guide pyramid wants my kids to eat their way every day. That does not happen. They may eat only oatmeal on Wednesday and nothing but bananas on Thursday. Then we may have a cheese-beef day or a green bean day. Other days are models of a well-rounded diet. Most days are somewhere in between.

I focus on making sure their diet is well rounded by the week. I'm not too concerned about well rounded days, and I especially don't enforce well rounded meals, since we're a family of grazers. I doubt that most parents do enforce well rounded meals, if they are looking at the whole pyramid. If you do, why do you only ask about my veggies at dinner, and not fruit? You don't have to worry about my kids getting enough veggies or fruits, because they do. It may not be in the same fashion you feed your kids, but it is comparable in quantity.

Their diet will probably change as they get older and we are able to see more clearly how certain foods and types of foods affect their moods and concentration and overall health. But for now, we are aiming for well rounded for our kids.

Next Step In Health For Us:

For those not following the food guide pyramid, health is a step by step process, just as frugality and going green are, changing one thing at a time until we reach our own ideal. The next step for us is cutting out processed meats that contain nitrates, thanks to a reader tip. (I do read and investigate what you all tell me; your comments are meaningful to me and my life has benefited from them.) I found a polish sausage recipe that looks simple and my husband has agreed to let me try it to see if it satisfies his hot dog cravings. I'm psyched that he's giving it a chance and I'll keep you updated.

Is the Food Guide Pyramid for You?

Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But I would encourage people to really think about their own health ideals instead of taking the government's, or anyone else's, word for it.

I would also like people to at least consider that not everyone is going to live by the same standards they do, nor should they. As I write this blog, I don't expect anyone to do everything that I do. Physically, we're not all the same, we don't all have the same dietary needs, and I'm okay with that.

As with all posts, comments are very welcome as long as they pertain to this post. There have been people trying to spam the comments section. That is not welcome. Comments that only serve to demonstrate the commenter's low reading comprehension level will be deleted, as they cause confusion.


Anonymous said...

The way your kids are eating is perfectly normal----I've read for years that you really have to account for the fruits/veggies/meat/milk/grains etc. they get in a WEEK, rather than in a day. You're right about that. Some kids go through the first years of their life on a diet of just chicken nuggets b/c the parents say that is all they will eat! I found with my son that when I consistently offered him a variety of healthy food he would eventually eat them. If he didn't like broccoli the first time, I would serve it to him again. He loves it now!

I just wanted to say, Emily, that you seem to be doing a great job with your little ones. Your ways may seem a little unorthodox to some. All of us have some lifestyle choices that would not meet with everyone's approval, if we were all being open and honest to the world like you are. My comment about the placenta yesterday was not meant to be ugly or hurt your feelings. I thought it was kind of funny how you just threw it out there so casually, so my comment was meant in jest.

I know its not common to have a baby shower after the first baby, but I was wondering if a friend or someone from your church might give you a pantry shower, so that you can get some diapers, paper plates, and some food items that would help you out?

Dixie said...

Where does placenta fit on the food pyramid? I don't think I ever saw the "one of your own organs" portion...

Scottish Twins said...

I agree that the food pyramid isn't for everyone. My family eats a very high-protein diet (mainly out of necessity due to food allergies) and thrives this way. We eat red meat at least 4 times a week, even though most nurtitionists wouldn't recommend it. So long as your protein isn't eaten with other high cholesterol, processed foods I think it's ok.

I've never though about how the food pyramid is set up with the cheapest foods at the bottom - that's very interesting.

I've been thinking a lot about your situation and how you could eat more organic foods. Do you have a yard at all? Large windows? Ways to grow some of your own produce?

Also, raw milk is very cheap compared to store bought organic milk. From it you can make your own butter, cheese, yogurt, etc. It's a little extra work, but you seem to enjoy working in the kitchen.

Emily said...

Mary, I've never taken offense to your comments, not even the placenta one! I'm probaby not getting a shower with this third baby, but I am asking gift givers, family that wants to, to give more practical gift, like the diapers.

Dixie, the placenta would be protien.

Scottish Twins, I wish that were true about raw milk. In my area, there are only two stores that sell it and it is around $8 per gallon, as opposed to $3.50 for whole milk. That would be my ideal, raw milk and homemade dairy, though. We have strict state regulations on the price of milk, so I think they are higher than most areas.

But, you got me thinking, I'll do some price checking in New Hampshire and Mass, and atleast see if I can get some of my own dairy made the right way. I probably don't want to buy too much raw milk in bulk. (: Can you freeze it like regular milk?

I tried indoor gardening over the summer, first time, and didn't do too well. We had a cold summer. I'm going to try some herbs again over the winter and set up some sprouting plants. Thanks for the ideas!

Scottish Twins said...

It can be frozen or canned just like regular milk.

In Ohio it is actually illegal to sell raw milk in the stores, so I go directly to a small family farm and get my milk there. They accept "donations" for their milk. We get it for $3/gallon.

I know you have followed Sally Fallon before - if you go to Weston Price's website and click on local chapters, they can put you in touch with some local people that may be able to find farmers willing to work with you.

Treva said...

Is there any particular reason you did not use the most recent USDA pyramid? The most recent one is from 2005 and also incorporates exercise as a part of a healthy lifestyle. Just a curiosity question.

I agree that you must eat in a way that feels best for you. And no one can honestly say that eating cookies as the base of their diet makes them feel really healthy! LOL In my house we don't eat much meat. Still we get "normal" amounts of protein by eating other things, like almonds, walnuts, and dairy. We eat a good portion of fruit & veggies every day -- easily getting in the recommended amount 5 or 6 days a week, but usually going over a couple days a week. We like our fruit & veggies around here!

Emily said...

Scottish Twins, Thats where I found the two stores in my state and where I hope to find places in neighboring states. I'm definitely going to look into canning.

Treva, the pyramid was purely a visual thing. I just liked this picture, it converted better to black and white. I was wondering if anyone would notice.

Captain Cleavage said...

I agree with this post. My midwife actually has a lot (and I mean a loooot) of opinions on the food pyrimaid. As she explaind it...If it comes out of the ground the water or a chicken's butt it is good to eat. if it is packaged in a can or box or bag...it's crap.

She actually also showed me where you get the same vitamins and calcium from orange juice as you would from milk and told me that limiting you milk is not a bad thing. OJ is cheaper than milk :)

BTW maybe you already posted this and maybe not but when is your due date?

Emily said...

Captain Cleavage, my midwife advises against drinking too much milk when pregnant, too. She says it is telling my body that I am going to be birthing something the size of a calf, and it makes labor harder. Due Date: Oct 7.

Treva said...

I used to work in an industry where a chunk of my time was spent educating about food (or the lack thereof), so knowing the food pyramid was a biggie.

I think my biggest concern with the food pyramid is that has been "sponsored" by such organizations as Dairy Farmers. And the pyramid now recommends 3 servings of low-fat dairy every 24 hours. But as we've discussed here in the comments section, you can get the same calcium and nutrients from orange juice (or even better -- from oranges themselves!). It makes me leery to just accept the pyramid at face value, KWIM?

Also I think the pyramid is missing something vital by not having WATER as the "base" or the item you should consume the most of. I'm not going to say you need 8 8oz servings, because you may need more or less. Water should be the main thing going into your body regardless that it has no calories. And generally people fill up on every liquid except water. But everyone needs water every single day and to not see it on the pyramid and just mentioned here and there in the notes that water should be encouraged... it's just not enough of a push IMHO. We are so fortunate to have water practically at our disposal yet we fill ourselves with everything but water.

Just my opinion of course!

Captain Cleavage said...

I completely agree about water not being on the food pyramid! I have always wonderd about that! My Husband works in a food warehouse where the temp in the summer time can reach 102 degrees. All the guys need to be drinking water but for some reason they all drink Mt. Dew instead (ugh)

Birthing something the size of a calf is terrifying. Oct. 7th! sooo close!

Emily said...

Treva, it's funny you mention the "sponsorship" thing, because that has always made me skeptical as well. I'm more skeptical of other agro-businesses' ties with the Department of Agriculture besides just dairy farmers, but I definitely agree.

Yeah, if a glass of milk is in dairy and a cup of juice counts as a serving of fruit, water should have it's place as well. That's another great frugal tip as well. Water is free.

Henrietta said...

I was wondering on what you base your statement that "For our own health reasons, we are opting for a much higher protein diet." Is it just your personal food preferences, or have you done research on the topic? I would love links to some reading on the subject.

I didn't read all of the traditional diets that you linked because, while interesting from an anthropological and culinary standpoint, they appear to only offer correlations between diet and health. (I'm thinking specifically of the Sub-Saharan article; in the genetically isolated groups described, science cannot link causation between straight teeth and diet.) I was also turned off by the obvious bias in favor of the WAPF's own publications ("moldered in obscurity" is hardly the language of impartiality), but I may follow the footnotes to read some other journal articles on the topic.

Since you are skeptical of the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid, I thought you might be interested in this comparison of other countries' modern nutritional recommendations: http://www.brighamandwomens.org/healtheweightforwomen/special_topics/intelihealth0702.aspx

Have a good day!

The Pittsburgh Pair said...

Emily, you stated that "Water is free." But it isn't...we certainly pay for water coming out of the tap and I'd imagine most everyone else does too. Even if you use well water, there is electricity to pump it, for example.

Why has no one raised the point that this is no longer the current food pyramid used? This one is outdated; the new one features a balanced approach at the base.

Emily said...

Henrietta, as I said in the post, the "why" behind behind my husband and my diet will become it's own post, and I'm not going to address it in the comments, as I made clear in the post.

Pittsburgh Pair, you're right, water is in included in my rent but it is not free. Still, water from the tap is cheaper by the gallon than milk, soda, orange juice, or anything else you can be drinking. And I have already answered the part about the old pyramid.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anything is wrong with NOT following the food pyramid. I eat a mostly vegan diet, as does my family...and I've always thought it wasn't the gov. business to tell me what to eat. There is a vegan food pyramid (not gov. made) but I don't follow that either.

I know what is healthy for my body and that's what I eat. When I'm not getting enough fruits/veggies I feel heavier, blechy. I know not everyone is the same.

Naomi said...

Regarding calcium -- many varieties of OJ are fortified with calcium, and you can get the calcium you need by drinking fortified juice. Actual oranges are not fortified. You will get very little of the calcium you need from eating an orange.

Penny Saver said...

You would be interested in the book Food Politics by Marion Nestle. She talks about how the food pyramid was made, and the politics involved in getting food to the store shelves and promoted as healthy in the US. It's fascinating. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan would also be an interesting read for you, as he talks about the GMO issues you're concerned about and the broader implications of a corn-based agriculture system, as well as how meat and other foods are grown and get to you.

Nota said...

About the placenta issue, while it does not appeal to me, many mammal mothers eat their placenta after giving birth to replenish nutrients (particularly iron) to offset dehydration and blood loss from giving birth. It's a survival tool provided by whatever power you ascribe to, to help ensure that a mother survives the birth to continue and nurture the infant. I don't understand people that would eat liver, brains, tripe, tongue, and gizzards of an animal, but would not at least consider consuming a tool that they themselves created for their own replenishment. The child has been eating out of that placenta for 40 weeks and growing, so there must be something good about it.

A woman I know well was advised by her midwife to leave the chord and placenta attached to the baby until the chord dried and fell off if possible as the baby could still continue to draw nutrients remaining in the placenta. She did it. No ill effects so far.

Emily said...

Penny Saver, those are definitely going on my reading list.

Nota, I think I'm confused. Do you mean she carried around the placenta for a few days with her baby until the cord fell off? My midwife is going to have us wait until the placenta detatches and is delivered without coaxing before cutting the cord, so it will be an hour or so after the baby is delivered. Is that what you mean?

Anonymous said...

Hi Emily. You can choose to delete this comment and post about it in another post or answer it here. I'm just not sure where else to post this question.

What do you guys do for exercise? I'm especially asking about your children since winter is coming and you live in such a small space.


Emily said...

Jazzie, we go sledding in the winter! Like other people, we stay inside more in the winter than the summer, but we try to go out and play as much as we can. There are also big snow mounds that collect in the parking lot that my kids climb on. But until it snows, we go to the park and playgrounds and we've spent a lot of the summer at the beach, carrying sand to and fro.

Anonymous said...

Hi Emily,

I second the suggestion for Michael Pollan. I also suggest a book called The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved (forget the author). It is a bit less focused than other books on food, but presents an excellent picture of all kinds of issues arising in food production/marketing/consumption in modern America.

And a bit off topic. You are one of the most active bloggers in your comment section. Have you ever considered making a semi-regular posting out of Q and A developed in your comments? I know that not everyone (myself included) always reads the comment sections - and since you are so involved, a lot of interesting discussion happens here.

And finally, greetings from a fellow ME resident :)

Arthur, Robin, and Maggie said...

That's called "lotus birth". :) (leaving the placenta and cord attached until it falls off)

Anonymous said...

Just two quick notes. One, my mom is a pediatric endocrinology nurse and calcium MUST BE COMBINED WITH VITAMIN D to be absorbed in your body. Some drs say Tums is a fine calcium supplement but it does nothing without Vitamin D. I know Milk has vit D but I'm not sure if OJ has enough calcium.

The 8 glasses of water a day is total crap! It was made up and applies to crazy people like Navy Seals in 110 degree weather doing amazing stunts, and other weird situations. It's been picked up and is one of those many cultural myths like Eskimos have 30 words for snow (wrong), or being in the cold gives you a cold (wrong), etc. As my cardiologist says, if you pee CLEAR, you are hydrated. And FOOD has a ton of water in it, so don't think by not drinking liquid you aren't getting a ton of water. Many foods have a very large % of water in them.

For what it's worth, a family friend (family doctor) said in his years in medicine, the most messed up kids were from parents who tried to hyper control the kids diets. Kids are awesome about regulating what they need. And as a dietician we know once said, if your child drinks a glass of milk and has a slice of bread for a week, they will be JUST FINE nutritionally. The reality is almost everything has an overabundanced of fortified vitamins in it, so it's more a balance of the fats/proteins/carbs than pure vitamin intake.

Emily said...

youngwomanswallet, if something real interesting comes up in the comments, I turn it into a post. Many of my posts are inspired from comments and questions people ask, so if you keep reading the blog, you won't miss anything. (:

I'm really fascinated by this lotus birth. It sounds like it might be beyond even my "ew" threshold, though.

jennifer said...

I think my comment did not come through (I am new to using blogspot)
I was hoping you would maybe make a post or just a comment here about the placenta eating. Did you do this w/ your 1st two kids and what is the reason behind it, where did you get the idea and are you even a little bit scared it would taste good and you will have wasted the ingredients used to make it a meal?

Emily said...

jennifer, I might do a separate post. Some readers are a little grossed out, so I'm not sure. I'm not too worried about it not tasting good. It's meat after all, and I enjoy experimenting with new foods. I was going to save the placenta with my first, but when I delivered my precious baby, we kind of forgot about it. I didn't think much about the placenta with the birth of my second because we were going through a MAJOR life transition at the time(moving, starting school, finding job, new baby). I don't remember where I first heard of it. There are a ton of supposed health benefits behind eating the placenta- prevents post partum depression and hemorrhaging, and helps with milk supply. But just thinking about what the placenta does, it's got to be full of nutrients.

Jenny said...

I'm quite open-minded, but eating the placenta is just too far out of my "ew threshold."

I do know, however, that it can be dried, ground, and put into little capsules that can be swallowed just like any other vitamin supplement. That I could totally handle, but the thought of chewing on it like a piece of meat...just can't do it.

FWIW though, I still have my daughter's placenta in our freezer. One of these days we're going to get around to planting it with some sort of fruit tree for her. In the meantime it just sits there in the deep freezer.

Nota said...

Thank you Arthur, Robin & Maggie for giving me the correct term for 'lotus birth'. Based on that, I was able to google it and get some more info, as I'm sure Emily will do.

Emily, I believe my friend just kept the placenta in a bowl with a piece of cheesecloth over it next to the baby until the chord and placenta fell off of their own accord. Apparently this is an excellent way of preventing infection into the infant by not severing the umbilical.

Shauna said...

"I focus on making sure their diet is well rounded by the week."

This is what experts recommend for small children anyway because they consume so little.

My son and I do better on a lower carb, lower protein diet. I eat more like 40g of protein vs. 50 and 4 or 5 servings of grains vs 6+. Not sure how this translates to my 4 year olds diet. Thankfully I have a child who prefers fruits and veggies. I buy as much discounted and in-season produce as possible, plus have a small garden in front of my apartment and family members tend to pawn their unused produce off onto me. My stepdad ended up with too many green beans this summer and I was able to blanch and freeze 17 quarts, half of which went to a friend who was struggling.

So we load up on fruits and veggies and supplement with protein and carbs. We're both healthy...works for us!

Oh and I limit dairy a bit too....2 servings a day. We often use almond or hemp milk though.

KrustyTheCat said...

Have you looked at mypyramid.gov? it is a more updated version of the food pyramid. They don't recommend eating 6-11 servings of grain a day, now it is only 3oz, so 3 servings. The old one is so antiquated, so take a look at the new one ;o)

Lyndsae said...


I think your diet, and the diet you're providing your kids is fine. As long as they're healthy and energetic, what's the problem? I was a terribly picky eater as a little kid. My parents were fortunately very patient and let me eat or not eat pretty much what I wanted. My mom said that sometimes I would go days and days on mustard sandwiches, cereal, and fruit. Apparently it hasn't hurt me.

I still have a somewhat unusual diet, but it works for me. I eat no meat, rarely eat eggs, and eat dairy 1-2 times per day. The rest is grains, vegetables, and the occasional fresh fruit. I've always believed that if my diet keeps me healthy and energetic, it's fine.

I'm a firm believer that everyone person's body and body chemistry are different, and so our nutritional needs are also different.

Polka Dot Mommy said...

I didn't make it through all your comments to see if someone already suggested this, but check out realmilk.com, it's a campaign for RAW Full Fat Milk... which has numerous health benefits. There is a page to help locate sources of milk in your area. You can also try Raw Goats Milk. Here we can only get Raw Cow Milk via a cow share or a small farm that has less than 3 milk producing cows... but sure enough, there are several places around to get it!

It's not too difficult to grow herbs in your windowsills, so that you can always have fresh (free!) herbs on hand. You can also grow lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, garlic (and more) in planters outside, if you have a porch or patio area. We also have berry bushes in planter boxes.

You might also check into a community farm... or a farm share with someone who has a yard but maybe can't handle all the work. A good site to find local farms, co-ops, CSA's, farmers markets, etc... is localharvest.org

I think what your doing is AMAZING. For those who ask why you don't go in the mission field, the response is simple... Mothering is a mission field... the most important! If you've never read Above Rubies.org, you should!

Rebecca said...

The food pyramid is certainly a good guide and you are right, that it can and should be adjusted to fit your needs better, BUT I think the deviation should be discussed with a Doctor. They are professionals who can truly tell if you are healthy or not or if you need more of one thing or less of another.

Over the years I have had to adjust what I eat and the supplements that I take because I had too much calcium intake, an iron deficiency, and most recently a vitamin D3 deficiency. These could only be determined through various tests performed and once I took the steps to correct those I felt an improvement on my body that I didn't realize was lacking. I would have neer known.

I guess I am just saying advice from a Dr. who is trained and qualified shouldn't be overlooked. To think that you are as qualified or can just research the information is ignorant.

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