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Is The Food Pyramid To Blame For American Obesity? Yes, But It’s Complicated

Plain and simple, the 1992 Food Guide Pyramid was a failure. Created mainly due to Big Agriculture’s influence on policy-makers at the time, the recommendations to eat more carbohydrates and less protein and fat didn’t do our health any favors.

Big Ag and Big Food were in cahoots at the time (you could argue they still are today) and saw the official government food guide as a great marketing opportunity for their products. Their primary goal with this thing was to pad their profits, but they ended up padding American waistlines in the process. 

The Food Guide Pyramid recommended a relatively high intake of processed carbohydrates and a relatively low intake of protein and fat, regardless of source. This is why foods like breakfast cereals became such a staple in American homes throughout the 90s. 

But can we really just throw our hands up and pin the blame for our declining health on a silly pyramid on the back of cereal boxes? Many people don’t realize that the food pyramid was abandoned in 2005. However, since then, obesity and chronic disease have continued to climb. 

Fast forward to the present day, and the official food guide is now MyPlate, a visual representation of a balanced meal. Today’s recommendation is vastly different than the old food pyramid of the ‘90s. MyPlate recommends that every meal consists of approximately half of a plate of fruit and vegetables, a quarter of a plate of whole grains, and a quarter of a plate of protein.

That is a pretty good recommendation to follow. So if our official food guide has improved so significantly, why are diet-related health trends still moving in the wrong direction? Are we all so in love with the ‘90s that we can’t even let go of the food recommendations from that decade? 

It turns out that the opposite is true. We have long abandoned the recommendations of the ‘90s and overcorrected in the opposite direction. Carbs have been the boogeyman for years, and there is plenty of data to back it up. From 1999 to 2016, American adults consumed significantly fewer processed carbs and proportionately more protein and fat. 

In 2012, Google searches for “low-carb” exceeded those for “low-fat.” As of late, keto has caught on like wildfire, yet we are still facing an obesity rate of over 40% and climbing. Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates have tripled in the U.S., and these kids aren’t eating cereal with the food pyramid on the back of the packaging anymore. 

The key takeaway? When it comes to nutrition, you can never pin the blame on just one thing. Did the food pyramid of the 90s do us any favors? No, but neither did choker necklaces or denim-on-denim. The best thing we can do now is to leave those silly things behind and look at practical solutions moving forward. 

What foods we choose to eat absolutely matters, but so does how much of it we eat. Instead of focusing on fad diets and whether low-carb or low-fat is to blame, we need to start understanding that how much we eat and how many calories we burn will largely dictate how the scale moves. 

If we want to curb our obesity and chronic disease epidemic moving forward, we need to start having a conversation about conscious quantities and tone down the conversation about carbs versus fat or keto versus vegan. 

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