Food Pyramid Fight

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines are being revised and the financial stakes are high. The Guidelines, summarized graphically in the Food Pyramid, form the basis for the school lunch program and other federal nutrition programs impacting hospitals, nursing homes, the military and everyday consumers.

The $500 billion food industry is vitally concerned with the outcome. The slightest change in the recommendations can mean enormous increases in sales or calamitous drops in profits.

The Dairy Council is lobbying for an increase in the daily recommendations for dairy products while the American Millers’ Association and the U.S. Potato Board are defending their economic interests against the low-carbohydrate craze. Similarly, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the Chocolate Manufacturer’s Association, the Snack Food Association, the California Walnut Board, the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, and many more are busily twisting arms and applying pressure for their members‘ financial advantage.

Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. met with USDA officials to propose an alternative “Atkins Lifestyle” pyramid. The Atkins web site urges dieters to contact the USDA telling it to reduce the recommended carbs in the new Dietary Guidelines. This, in spite of inadequate scientific research on the long-term health consequences of low carbohydrate consumption. Again, it’s self-interest and ideology ahead of science and the best interests of the American public.

Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard University Schools of Medicine and Public Health, one of the world’s leading nutrition scientists, observes that the USDA Food Pyramid provides “wishy-washy, scientifically unfounded advice” that contributes to “overweight, poor health and unnecessary early deaths.”

Professor Willett and his colleagues from the Harvard School of Medicine and the Harvard School of Public Health have designed their own pyramid. Based entirely on the scientific evidence, Harvard’s health pyramid emphasizes exercise, whole grains, plant oils, and a reduction in white rice, pasta, and potatoes. It also recommends the regular consumption of alcohol (beer, wine, or spirits) for all adults unless there is good reason for them not to drink.

Perhaps the USDA should simply adopt the Harvard pyramid and leave politics to the politicians. Doing so would contribute to the health and longevity of the American public.


The Harvard pyramid can be seen at Alcohol in the Diet.


  • Zamiska, Nicholas. Food-pyramid frenzy: Lobbyists fight to defend sugar, potatoes and bread in recommended U.S. diet. Wall Street Journal (Marketplace section), July 29, 2004, B1; Willett, Walter C., with the assistance of others. Eat, Drink, and be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Filed Under: Diet