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The Food Pyramid You Never Got to See

food pyramid

By Kelley Herring

Last week, I received welcome feedback from a reader about the articles I write on health and nutrition. James in California, writes:

I admire your work. It has changed my wife’s life and mine. I have no idea how the Food Pyramid propaganda went so wrong. But it was only after abandoning it, that we regained our health!”

First, I must say how appreciative I am for his words. The focus of my career is to help people enjoy their best health by making wise choices about food. The foods you eat can heal your body and provide abundant energy.

But food also has the power to inflict great harm to your health over time.

That’s why it’s so important to carefully consider the foods you eat and how they impact your body. And that brings me to the second part of James’ message…

How did the US government’s Food Pyramid go so wrong? And why has our own government provided such inaccurate and harmful nutritional advice as that found in the Food Pyramid and the My Plate program which followed it?

It probably does not surprise you to learn that big money and powerful corporate interests are behind these recommendations. But there’s a good chance, you don’t know how it came to pass and “The Food Pyramid You Never Got to See” – so that’s the story for today…

In 2011 – after nearly 20 years – the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) retired the universally-recognized “Food Pyramid”. It should be noted that these two decades were marked by rapidly rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Perhaps they figured it was time to make a few changes!

And while the previous pyramid was flawed in its recommendations, at least it was easy to understand. We were instructed to eat more foods from the bottom and fewer of the foods from the top.

Dedicated to Health and Prosperity (of the Food Industry)

Some groups, such as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), say the Food Pyramid is simply a reflection of the financial interests of food and farming groups, and that the USDA is held hostage by the industries they supposedly regulate. It doesn’t help that the new guidelines were designed by a PR firm that has also represented McDonald’s and the Snack Food Association.

The PCRM actually filed suit against the USDA because six of the 11 members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee have financial ties to the food industry. Of course, the USDA claims there are no such conflicts of interest. But all it takes is one look at food subsidies to uncover this whopper…

The USDA heavily subsidizes wheat, corn, rice and soybean growers, who receive the bulk of the $20 billion annual farm subsidies. Besides animal feed, the top uses for these crops are for the production of processed foods, high-fructose syrup and “vegetable” oils.

Meanwhile, the farms that grow vegetables and fruit receive virtually no subsidies at all.


food pyramid, inflammation, paleo, keto

The Food Pyramid You Never Got to See

Since the government began promoting “heart healthy” vegetable oils and the heavy consumption of refined starches, we have seen an explosion in the rates of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. And guess where these misguided recommendations came from? The manufacturers of those products themselves!

It turns out that the original Food Pyramid really was designed for optimal health – but you never got to see it!

In the early 1980’s, nutrition expert Luise Light, Ed.D., was teaching at New York University when she was recruited by the Department of Agriculture to create a new Food Guide. Her job was to replace the “Basic Four Food Groups.”

As created by Light and her team, the original pyramid was designed to promote a diet based on vegetables, fruits and meat… with only limited amounts of grain and starch. It was submitted to the authorities within the USDA for approval.

But when Light saw “her” pyramid in its final form, she was shocked. The Office of the Secretary of Agriculture had made changes that had nothing to do with improving health and nutrition – and everything to do with protecting the profits of the food industry!

  • The team’s recommendation of 2 to 4 servings of whole-grain breads and cereals was nixed in favor of a whopping 6-11 servings, no doubt pleasing the corn and wheat industries.

  • Crackers, baked goods and processed starches were taken from the top of the pyramid and moved to the base, where they were to make up the bulk of the American diet.

  • Subtle changes were made to Light’s wording to emphasize processed foods over whole foods and change recommendations such as “eat less” to “avoid too much.”

Over her strenuous objections, the Food Guide Pyramid was finalized and approved. Afterward, Luise Light wrote, “The health consequences of encouraging the public to eat so much refined grain, which the body processes like sugar, was frightening.” She made it clear to the USDA that their version of the Food Pyramid would lead to an epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

And welcome to America in 2019!

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), two out of three Americans are overweight or obese. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that the number of children who are overweight has doubled in the last two and a half decades. Not surprisingly, heart disease and diabetes are among the leading causes of death.

So What About the “New” Food Pyramid?

So the Food Pyramid has been revised and updated – but aside from the new graphic and more enigmatic presentation, not much has changed.

So as not to make any foods “off-limits,” the new guidelines suggest that you allow for “discretionary calories.” These could include sweetened cereals, bakery products, and added-sugar beverages. You might call this “junk food.”

They also suggest that you “make half your grains whole.” Another way to say the same thing: “Half your grains should be refined, processed, and void of nutrition.” That might be a boon to the food processing industry, but it’s poor advice for the sake of your health.

The new guidelines also do little to distinguish between good fats and bad fats. And even here, the recommendations are toothless. The Institute of Medicine has declared that there is “no safe level” of hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (trans-fats) that you can consume. But the new Food Pyramid simply suggests that you “cut back on trans-fats” if you want to lower your risk of heart disease.

food pyramid, balsamic glazed pork chops

How About a Real Food Pyramid?

Given the very poor state of health and nutrition in this country, what we needed from the Department of Agriculture was a clear message about what it really means to eat a healthy diet. Our population needs advice about nutrition that is not beholden to special interests.

Instead of a food pyramid that serves the financial needs of Big Ag, the food pyramid should be designed to support the nutritional needs of our ancient human genetics.

To that end, your “Real Food” plan should be:

  • Comprised of nutrient-dense whole foods.

  • Limited in or free from grains, legumes and other potentially inflammatory Neolithic foods.

  • Void of “fake foods” and substances of which our body does not recognize (such as hydrogenated oils).

  • Specific in recommendations for vegetables. Above-ground versus tuberous vegetables should be quantified. Also, there should be an emphasis on vegetable families with particular importance for human health, such as cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, etc), alliums (onions and garlic), herbs and spices, etc.

  • Specific in recommended ratios of fats to include in the diet. Different fats have different biochemical activities and exert powerful influence on genetic expression. Natural saturated and monounsaturated fats from grass-fed beef, bison, pork, olive and olive oil, avocados and nuts should be emphasized, as should omega-3 fats, from wild seafood, of which the general population is critically deficient. Omega-6 fats should be quantified and limited in the diet to achieve a healthy essential fat profile.

Finally, while these new proposed recommendations would go a long way to redefine what a healthy diet should be for the general population… YOU are not the general population. You are a unique individual! This means the best “food pyramid” is the one that works best for your biochemistry, genetics and microbiome.

kelley herring


Kelley Herring is the author of the brand new book Keto Breads – which includes more information you need to know about why it is so important to avoid wheat and grains in your diet, plus how to use healthy replacements for these foods to create all the breads you love… without the gluten, carbs and health-harming effects. Click here to learn more about Keto Breads