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Good nutrition: going beyond government food pyramid models

Our fast-paced, hectic, post-modern society often forces personal nutrition to the backburner. This is unfortunate, since neglecting basic dietary requirements will have an adverse effect on your work productivity, your physical and mental well-being and your ability to perform both basic and complex lifestyle chores.

In the 1970s, governments sought a simplified way to present basic nutritional guidelines to its citizens. Responding to the pressures of urbanisation and higher food prices, they began introducing "pyramids", a model based on the four (4) major food groups:

  • Milk and dairy products
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Meat and meat substitutes
  • Bread and cereals (grains)

Though well-intentioned, the government pyramid model could never address specific dietary needs. In particular, MyPyramid was heavily criticised in numerous circles for being overly influenced by food lobbyists (e.g. dairy producers, the meat processing industry).

In response to these and other criticisms, the pyramid model underwent several revisions over the years to include daily physical activity and other recommendations (i.e. personalised food guidelines; more variety and proportionality across food groups, etc.). However, many food policy experts still viewed food pyramids as too abstract and confusing for the general population.

Britain’s EatWell Plate, Australia’s Guide to Healthy Eating and MyPlate in the USA were introduced based on newer dietary guidelines:

  • Defined proportionality (20% grains, 30% vegetables, 30% fruits, 20% protein). Some dairy on the side.
  • More emphasis on portion control.
  • Reduced sodium and salt intake.
  • Varied protein and grain sources.

The general idea being "it is easier to look at a plate and observe proper proportions using common sense than to measure out exact amounts of foods".

Alternative plates, other food consumption models.

Although MyPlate has received widespread praise for its emphasis on fruits and vegetables and its user-friendliness, many critics believe it still doesn’t go far enough in reconciling the latest nutrition science with actual recommendations.

In response, the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) released its own Healthy Eating Plate – arguably a more refined MyPlate – in September 2011 after previously promoting the Harvard Healthy Pyramid alternative. In addition, proponents of vegetarian and vegan diets continue to look wearily at government food decrees.

These diet alternatives, as well as others will be discussed in the next article of our Good Nutrition series.


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