Those of us who watched the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Review Committee process were bemused to see the way they chose to deal with their predecessors’ obvious policy failures. The graphic design which decorated their final report was a calculated cover-up.
In 1992, the United States Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines recommended the largest portion of the daily diet be comprised of grains (six to eleven servings), followed by fruit and vegetables (five to nine servings). This heavily carb-centric diet was depicted by a pyramid graphic, with the wide base at the bottom of the pyramid filled with breads, pasta and cereal, while the next layer of the pyramid depicted a variety of fruits and vegetables. Traditional staples of the human diet—milk, meat, eggs, cheese, butter—were dismissed and replaced by fats, oils and sweets to progressively smaller triangles toward the top of the pyramid. We were not only advised to eat fewer servings of protein-rich foods (four to six daily) but the use of an ascending pyramid of food groups signaled we should partake of smaller serving sizes as we moved up the pyramid.
By 2005, the pyramid was decorated with vertical rather than horizontal stripes, and a stick figure actually climbing stairs leaning diagonally up the pyramid was added to the graphic to symbolize the need for exercise. The dietary guidelines that accompanied the graphic, however, continued to promote a bottom-heavy diet of grains, fruits and vegetables as opposed to dairy, eggs and meat.
With the unveiling of the 2010 guidelines, gone was the pyramid, and in its place was a circle. The clearly wrongheaded advice to load up on carbohydrates had proven a major government mistake. Critics believe these carbo-loading guidelines have caused our nation’s obesity crisis. So, the academic policy wonks found an interesting way to save face graphically.
The government guidelines switched from depicting dietary guidelines with a triangular pyramid to a round dinner plate. A close look at the new My Plate graphic reveals the sad fact that the actual dietary recommendations haven’t changed at all, and the dinner plate graphic is a deceptive design.
In the new My Plate graphic, more than three quarters of the colorful dinner plate is comprised of grains, fruits and vegetables, but the plate appears to be half fruits and vegetables and slightly more than one-quarter grains. The approved protein ration appears to be a little less than a quarter of the plate, and a dairy serving is off to the side in another small circle.
We analyzed the serving sizes spelled out in the sections entitled “How Much is Needed?” on the ChooseMyPlate.gov website. We found that the My Plate graphic doesn’t accurately reflect the government’s actual ounces-per-meal advice for the various food groups. If you drill down into the text on the ChooseMyPlate.gov website and convert the daily dietary advice into ounces per meal for each food group, you’ll make a stunning discovery.
For example, take the average ounces per meal recommended for women aged nineteen to fifty. The government recommends a meager average serving size of 1.6 ounces of lean protein (equal to one-half of a small, lean beef patty) and 1.6 ounces of grains (equal to one and one-half slices of bread) per meal. In contrast, adult women are advised to eat an oversize portion of 6.6 ounces of vegetables (nearly a cup), and 4 ounces (half a cup) of fruit per meal.
The government recommended ratio of proteins and grains to fruits and vegetables is 3.2 to 10.6. So, this begs the question. Is the My Plate design an accurate depiction of the government dietary advice? When a pie chart of the average USDA-recommended ounces per meal of each food group is graphed, a totally different picture emerges.
Take a close look and compare the My Plate to the pie chart. You’ll notice the My Plate graphic gives the impression that the meal is evenly divided between proteins and grains compared to fruit and vegetables. When we graph out the actual ounces per meal recommended in the text of the report, it appears that vegetables and fruits take up over three quarters of the plate, and proteins and grains under one fourth of the plate.
The USDA’s carb-loading advice is now heavily weighted in favor of vegetables and fruits rather than grains and cereal. Yet, when you add the fruits, vegetables, grains together, 88 percent of the foods in this USDA-sanctioned meal are carbohydrates. In this latest update of the government guidelines, we are hearing that our ideal diet is “plant-based.” This is a real victory for vegan activists who are very involved behind the scenes, we can be sure.
Dairy is recommended as one cup per meal, but consumers are still warned to shun whole fat dairy; the biggest error in bureaucratic logic is seen here. In the text, nutrition policy writers label the fat portion of the milk as “empty calories.” However, thanks to the teachings of the Weston A. Price Foundation, we now know the fat portion of dairy foods is rich in vital nutrients, vitamins A, D, E, and K.
When you skim the fat from milk, you are left with protein and carbs. So per 8 ounces of milk add .42 ounces of carbs and .32 ounces of protein to the My Plate ledger. In the final analysis, the diet bureaucracy is recommending 12.62 ounces of carbohydrates and 1.92 ounces of protein per meal.
When we look carefully at these government guidelines, protein is now a mere condiment on the plate. Yet the cleverly deceptive My Plate graphic disguises this fact. It is only when you take the actual numbers and turn them into a pie chart graph, that the visual trickery is revealed. Instead of comprising a quarter of the meal (as it appears on the My Plate graphic), the meat portion is around one eighth of the meal.
It is important to note that at least the policy wonks radically reversed the previous advice on grains down from six to eleven servings to a mere 4.6 servings or 4.6 ounces a day (the USDA considers one slice of bread or one cup of cereal to be equivalent to an ounce). However, they were sneaky and hid the correction by rendering a deceptive dinner plate.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2014