The current nutritional pyramid, created in the United States in the 1970s, did not follow health advice, but rather economic interests.
During last Saturday, March 10, I had the opportunity to attend the first congress organized by the Institute of Nutrition and Health Sciences (ICNS), known as ICNS Congress 2018. At this meeting of great health professionals, including doctors, nutritionists, physiotherapists, personal trainers, pharmacists and psychologists, there were various presentations that tried to review the wide variety of problems that the public health system is experiencing today, not only in Spain but also in the rest of the world.
One of the data that they named in this congress was the fact that the currently in force nutritional pyramid, for which they have tried to find substitutes (such as the Harvard dish) or "renovations" (such as the Pyramid of the Spanish Society of Community Nutrition of 2015), it is not only inaccurate, but it was corrupted from the beginning. In fact, the author of the same pyramid, Luise Light, from New York University, admitted such corruption. Let's see how this happened.
The beginnings of the nutritional pyramid
According to Alfonso Bordallo, director of the ICNS, the beginnings of the current nutritional pyramid actually date back to 1972 and in Stockholm. In fact, the first nutritional pyramid was born in 1974, to alleviate the protests over the rise in food prices in Sweden. Therefore, at the base of this pyramid, low-priced foods such as bread, pasta, potatoes and milk were placed. It had nothing to do with health, but rather with the economy.
In the United States, things were a little more "advanced", since the first food guides in the North American country date back to 1916. Later, in 1956 these guides were modernized, adding meat, dairy products, whole grains, as "basic" foods. fruits and vegetables. It made good health sense, but later in the 1970s the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) commissioned the design of a food pyramid. To this end, they contacted Luise Light, who traveled from New York to Washington to prepare this work.
Light reviewed all the scientific evidence available to date and originally drew up a nutritional pyramid based on vegetables (5-9 servings), including as many servings of nuts, hollows, fish, legumes, and meat. In addition, the consumption of whole grains and dairy products in moderation (2 or 3 servings maximum) was advised, and it was emphasized that sugar should not be more than 10% of the daily calorie consumption. Also, at that time Light also advised that fat not exceed 30% of daily caloric intake, a type of macronutrient where olive oil should be the protagonist.
Luise Light based her pyramid on studies showing that the diet she recommended reduced cardiovascular risk and a multitude of diseases, including cancer. In fact, as we can see, it makes a lot of sense: fresh and nutritious food. In fact, Light went to the trouble of conducting an economic analysis of his proposal, to make it affordable for the general population, and also have some benefit for the food industry. Everything seemed ideal, but the Government of the United States, together with the USDA, did not quite agree with the proposal.
The corruption of the nutritional pyramid
Again, the economy hit the table harder than the need for healthy eating, similar to what happened in Stockholm in 1972, but this time the changes in the pyramid had nothing to do with protests but rather with corruption. of the food industry.
The USDA decided to make some changes to Light's nutritional pyramid: the 2 or 3 whole grain servings became 6-11, and should no longer be “whole grains”, but simply “grains”; added “use in moderation” warning to fats and olive oil. Protein-rich foods dropped to 2-3 servings, and dairy increased to 3-4 servings.
This aversion to fats has some explanation, due in large part to the study of the physiologist Ancel Keys, the already known as " study of the seven countries ". According to Luis Jimenez in his book " What science says to lose weight in a healthy way ", this study carried out between the years 60 ′ and 70 ′, through which cats were obtained from the fat intake of seven different countries (USA, Finland, Yugoslavia, Holland, Italy, Greece and Japan), detected a correlation between said fat consumption and an increase in cardiovascular risk. However, the fact that it was an observational study stands out (there was no detection of cause-effect), but even so the results of this work were of great significance. Subsequent studies have shown that if Keys had used data from many more countries, data already available in his day, his results would have been very different. In fact, today we know that fat is not the culprit of cardiovascular risk, but ultra-processed foods and high-calorie diets.
For his part, while Light warned that all these changes could increase health problems, and saw it totally unnecessary to consume so much bread and cereals (caloric and nutritionally empty foods), the USDA simply replied that “fruits and vegetables were more expensive than refined flours ". Interestingly, the USDA did not subsidize this type of food, but did offer subsidies to those who sold the aforementioned refined flours.
On the other hand, although for one reason or another, healthier foods are more expensive (in fact, this continues to be the case decades after the creation of the pyramid), the health expenditure caused by the increase in obesity and other related diseases after the publication of the current nutritional pyramid seems to have not been taken into account.
The point is that the nutritional pyramid that we still use today did not follow any health criteria as its creator intended, but simply surrendered to the harassment of the food industry. And in fact, it continues to be explained as it is in university careers without any criticism, and it is also taught in colleges and institutes not only in the United States, but throughout the world.
As Luise Light said at the time, " the dietary guidelines have been blatantly manipulated to benefit the sales of agricultural products."