Why I Don’t Recommend Following The Food Pyramid
by nutritionist, Lisa Moane
Many Australians have grown up with guides like the Healthy Eating Food Pyramid. But if you want to make sure you and your family is eating the healthiest diet possible, I do not recommend using the Food Pyramid.
Let’s take a closer look at why the Food Pyramid is not the best option, and what I suggest using instead.
♥ Dairy and grains are over-represented
The sections for dairy and grains are much bigger than what is ideal in a nutritious diet. Dairy has its own food group, even though you can get every nutrient found in dairy elsewhere.
Grains add a significant amount of calories and carbohydrates to the diet, but often not much in terms in micronutrients. Again, the key nutrients in grains such as B vitamins and fibre are found in abundance in other foods.
So why are these two food groups put at the same level as protein sources, fruit and vegetables? Simply because they are cheap. Grains and dairy have become staple foods because they are what people can afford to buy.
Unfortunately, the foods that give you a substantial amount of calories for a low price tag are often not the best for you nutritionally. If you are on a tight budget, I’ve got some tips here.
♥ It’s not designed for optimal wellbeing or supporting illness
Do you think that following the Food Pyramid means you’ll get plenty of essential nutrients? That is often not the case. The recommendations are based on RDIs that are far from the ideal amount of any nutrient.
The Pyramid was also not designed for people who have any chronic health concerns. This seems short-sighted, given the high rate of chronic disease in the Australian population! So if you or a family member have any significant health concerns, this tool is not appropriate.
♥ It takes years for the Pyramid to reflect what we know about nutrition
The majority of nutritionists have known for years that the low-fat approach is not healthy or balanced. But it took until 2015 for the Food Pyramid to be updated regarding fat intake. Even the latest version emphasises low fat products and doesn’t recognise how critical healthy fats are.
In many ways, the Food Pyramid is constantly out of date – it does not reflect the latest nutrition research available.
♥ Everyone has unique dietary needs
Everybody is different in terms of what they need and what doesn’t suit them. For some, a lower carbohydrate approach is best. For others, there may be allergies or intolerances that mean foods need to be removed. What you need also depends on your goals.
The Food Pyramid simply cannot offer enough guidance to allow for personalised nutrition. It cannot guide you about what to eat if your child has ADHD or autism and refuses food. Nor can it tell you that a child with asthma may need to go dairy-free. This is where working with a qualified nutritionist is the best option.
♥ What about the Australian Guide To Healthy Eating?
Another diet guideline I’m often asked about is the Australian Guide To Healthy Eating. This plate-based approach has many of the same issues as the food pyramid.
The grain-based foods make up nearly 1/3 of the plate – more than the vegetable and legumes section! It contains a dairy section that emphasises low-fat, and the fats section includes canola and margarine.
If you followed these guidelines as a template for how you eat, you would not get enough key nutrients.
♥ What do I recommend instead?
When it comes to you or your child, there are a few steps that I often recommend:
- Focus on adding in nutrient-dense foods – the more nutritious wholefoods that you include into your diet, the more essential nutrients you give your body. For many, it’s easier to add in foods rather than taking the less healthy foods out. Examples of nutrient dense foods include berries, organ meats and eggs. For more about the best foods to add into your child’s diet, check out this article.
- Switch processed foods for healthier alternatives – what if the go-to staples in your house include cereal, flavoured yoghurt and biscuits? In this case, it can be easier to switch for better alternatives. That way, it’s not a huge change to make and is more likely to stick! You can find my favourite swaps for kids here.
- Work towards a nutritious day on a plate – for those who do better with visual tools like the food pyramid, this is my go-to. It emphasises nutrient-dense foods such as organ meats, vegetables, fermented foods and water. As with any guide, it does need to be tailored based on the needs and any intolerances or allergies. But it’s a great starting point for parents to start offering better balanced meals.
Do you struggle with feeding your child a variety of healthy foods?
Lisa Moane is a qualified Nutritionist, Food Scientist and GAPS practitioner.
Lisa works with children and families to restore their health and wellbeing. Her focus is always to get to the root cause of disease, and embrace symptoms as vital clues in this journey.
Lisa has a special interest in children’s health, gut health and auto-immune disease.
Her training as an engineer and food scientist makes her a natural problem solver, putting all the pieces of the health puzzle together and finding a workable solution.
Lisa runs a busy practice in the Illawarra, seeing clients in person and virtually, across Australia.