USDA Food Pyramids Flawed?

So what’s your opinion of the USDA’s new food pyramids? I note that all twelve listed pyramid versions contain large amounts of “milk.”

As a human, I’d like to know what grocery store has ‘human milk’ priced competitively to cow’s milk? It’s curious that the pyramid itself doesn’t specify the type of milk, leading me to wonder if it’s an implicit form of the advertizing slogan from the 70s, “Milk is Good for EveryBody”, and which is not true for about 75% of the world’s population when considering the milk commonly found in U.S. grocery stores. Furthermore, nature doesn’t appear to prescribe human milk for more than the first few years of human life.

Is nature wrong? What sorts of manipulations are the committiees of the USDA up to now? How long do human mothers naturally breastfeed their young? How long are infants breastfed in today’s cosmopolitan societies? Do the USDA’s recommendations have anything to do with the BGH commonly given to milk cattle? Why does the USDA tell us that relatively large amounts of milk for all age groups is recommended when nature apparently thinks it’s best for only the first few years?

“Lactase deficiency occurs normally to some degree in about 75% of adults, except those of northwest European descent, in whom the incidence is < 20%. Although statistics are unreliable, most nonwhites of North America gradually become lactase-deficient between ages 10 and 20 yr. Incidence is 100% in Chinese, 75% in black Americans, and high in persons of Mediterranean descent."

It appears there’s more broad-brush ‘we know what’s best for you’ coming from the near top of the U.S. hierarchy. In all fairness, the USDA’s new nutritional advice does give a disclaimer for lactose intolerance (LI) in some of their illustrations (see mini-poster link below), unlike the ones linked above, but how many people know whether they are LI or not? For that matter, how many people know the difference between milk allergy and LI? Lactose free dairy products are available, if you look for them, but they are not priced the same, and they are not available at all stores that sell milk. Even if lactase deficiency numbers are less than 20% for those of northwest European descent—it’s still a significant number of people.

Some symptoms of LI are: nausea, abdominal cramps, intestinal rumbling, bloating, and flatulence. Putting on my tinfoil hat, I imagine if I was a kid in school who drank milk several times a day, those symptoms might make me shift in my classroom seat a bit, and the teacher would likely, in a well-intentioned effort, tell me to stop. If I repeated that activity, perhaps I’d be embarrassed and when asked, “Why?” I might respond, “I don’t know.” I certainly think it’s likely the discomfort would be a distraction to my attention and learning. Because teachers and school districts today reportedly strong-arm parents to get attention-deficit-hyper-active children on medications, too much milk in everyone’s daily diet is probably good for sales of ADHD pharmaceuticals for kids, and gets those adults-to-be who are prescribed into the mindset that drugs are the solution to most any ailment.

I also have to wonder how many people will log on to the site www.mypyramid.gov and give medical information such as weight, age and activity level to a potential data aggregator. Their privacy policy in part states: “We will collect no personal information about you . . . unless you choose to provide that information to us.”

If you have a color printer, you might want to print out the official pyramid mini-poster, it’s a PDF. At least this one graphic includes the LI disclaimer. It doesn’t say, though, that 75% of people are likely LI.

Is that just an oversight?


Edit of 1/6/2007: Via Dave Pollard’s blog, a PDF named the Honest Food Guide.

It also appears that the link to the medical statistics above is no longer valid, perhaps another edition of the Merck Manual has been published (a common occurrence) and their website restructured. At the date of this edit, a similar paragraph can be found here.


Edit of 2/16/07: Another food pyramid published by Harvard.

7 thoughts on “USDA Food Pyramids Flawed?

  1. Excellent points. I must admit, that with my love of dairy products and lack of problem digesting them, I was remiss in noticing that.

    My tin foil hat tells me there may even be a ploy to help out the dairy industry. Surely there are other foods high in protein and/or calcium that aren’t such a problem for a majority of the adult population to digest. This is, after all, supposed to be a “healthier” way to eat.

    But it’s also important to remember the pyramids were designed by the U. S. Dept. of Agriculture.

  2. Protein versus carbohydrate: the reported difference between milk allergy and lactase deficiency. Apparently, the differences have recently been discovered, and back some 20 years ago when I was looking into milk intolerance, many of the references used the two phrases, milk allergy and lactose intolerance, interchangeably.

    Milk allergy allegedly occurs in a much smaller percentage of the population, but I’m skeptical of everything these days, especially so-called authorities. Big money drives the research upon which all science seems to be based, and big money seems to be more highly centralized than ever before.

    I’ve been reading quite a few blogs on this new pyramid, and a number of commentaries have espoused the Department of Health and Human Services as a more appropriate agency to publish a healthy eating guide for citizens than the USDA. On one level, I agree that it would seem better; on another level, wouldn’t it also be subject to similar types of special interest undermining?

  3. Interesting post. I know vegetarian groups have been highly critical of the dairy message in the Dietary Guidelines, and some leading nutrition scientists, such as Harvard’s Walter Willett, think the Guidelines’ calcium advocacy may be overstated.

  4. Come on, this is for the US and not for Japan. Almost no one has milk intolerance here! As long as you don´t drink protein shakes milk is the best protein source – compared to the cholesterol intake. I think the pyramide is not too bad.

  5. The particular text excerpted is from a well-respected physicians’ manual, here’s the copyright page where the contributors and their academic qualifications are listed.

    One can choose whether to believe the excerpt, or not; if one does believe it, there are clear ethnicity-related lactose-intolerance differences.

    With respect to the minimum statistic cited, I wouldn’t consider approximately 1 in 5 to be “almost no one”, but for that particular ethnic group, it’s certainly a minority of less than 50%.

  6. I think that the new food guide pyramid is not only flawed, it’s a mess.

    First of all, Do drink milk, but don’t drink it pasturized and homonized. It’s THESE processing that are causing all that lactose intolerance and milk allergies in the US.

    Second of all, GO EASY ON THE WHOLE GRAINS! Urrrgh. Cereals, even whole grain ones, wreck havoc on your insulin. Humans arn’t designed to eat grains. Cows got sick from it, and so can you.

    They say you can get magnesium and fiber from whole grains? Beans contain magnesium. Fruits and veggies contain soluable and insoluable fiber, even more than grains. Go figure. Plus, you get natural vitamins, not these artificial vitamin-fortified junk found on these so-called TOTAL Raison brand. Plus, I would like to see some exotic foods in there, cause they may contain even more nutrient content…at least the reserches are telling us.

    Where’s water!? I’m thirsty! Unless they WET the food pyramid, we, americans don’t know how much of a minimum amount of water we need to take daily. Didn’t you know that you can’t survive more than a few days without water? C’mon. Common sense fokes. A GALLON OF WATER A DAY!!!

    And they say Canola, Soybean, and polyunsaturated oils are recommended there. FOKES! DON’T TAKE CANOLA OIL! That’s trans toxic and ain’t good for your health. Take olive or coconut oil instead.

    And they say, avoid red meat. Well, red meat don’t cause cancer. It’s the WAY we are raising red meat, and it’s the stuff they are putting sausage. So, the best meats? Eat fish, and grass-fed free-ranged bison or buffalo. They won’t give you cancer and they are more nutrient-dense than chicken. Don’t cook it with these cheap, junk, trans-polyunsaturated oils or shortenings that you commonly see on supermarket shelves.

    And as for fats and oils, olive and grapeseed oils are great for salads and a little sauting. Organic, grassfed butter should be used for spreading. If you want to cook, use fresh grass-fed organic lard or tallow or organic extra virgion coconut oil. Avoid canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, and soy oil. Best of all, avoid ANY soy products (That include tofu). They claim it’s good, but truly, it’s bad for you. Peroid. Responsible for birth problems, groth retardnent, and nutrient defiency. Firmeated soy sauce is the only exception. Vegan diets arn’t good for you either, so you are better off eating some meat. I know that I care for the well being animals, but we are simply not designed for vegan. The iron found in spinach just don’t absorb well in your body. If you want iron, eat some red meat.

    And lastly, go organic as much as possible. Genetic engionerring for the reason of pest resistance as well as the pesticides causes many health problems and they pollute the air. No wander why we are seeing so much mercury in our fish and all these e-coli outbreaks from dirty conventional cows feed genetic altered feed, or best of all, genetic altered cows themselves.

    There’s so much I have to say, but for now, just follow my guidelines as you are following the pyramid, and as always, go organic, spay and nuter your pets, and please, be responsible for our earth.

  7. Hey there! My name is Maggie and I am doing research for Answers.com on nutrition and healthy living tips. I came across your site and found some really helpful resources, so thank you for providing those! I know it’s not an easy task to maintain a website, but I really appreciate the effort. I’m sure anyone who has come across the site would agree

    Just wanted to let you know that I found a broken link on kenklaser.gaiastream.com/2005/04/21/new-usda-food-pyramids-flawed-lactose-lactase-milk-allergy. You are linking to http://mypyramid.gov which is now defunct. It still seems crazy to me that the pyramid is out and the plate is in, even though it makes more sense! I guess it’s just what I grew up with! Anyway, there’s a new site with really similar information that the government is using at http://myplate.gov. Since you have links about nutrition, I assume you already knew of the switch, but it is somewhat surprising they never redirected that old site to the new one. Just thought I’d let you know so you can get that changed.

    I also wanted to let you know about a site that would be a great addition to your page. Nutrition.Answers.com is a page dedicated to food and healthy lifestyles through better food choices. The articles are written by Dr. Nina Franklin, who has her PhD in Nutrition. She is without a doubt an expert in the field of nutrition and the articles that she writes for Answers are very well-researched and written and I know her content on Answers.com would be helpful to your readers. If you like what you see on Nutrition.Answers.com, that link is yours to post!

    Thanks again for your time and your resources. If there’s anything you think I absolutely must include in my research, I’d love to hear your suggestions. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you; hope to hear from you soon!

    Best, Maggie Tyson

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