Reshaping the Food Pyramid

It's not just how much you eat that counts. Consuming fewer carbs and more "healthy" fats may help stave off chronic disease.

By John Casey
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

The Food Guide Pyramid, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's map of what's supposed to make up a healthy diet, is familiar to everyone from schoolchildren to health-conscious senior citizens.

But recent research involving more than 100,000 people could turn the pyramid on its side.

The study found that people whose diets contained fewer carbohydrates--foods like bread and cereals--and a bigger proportion of "healthy" fats, such as olive oil, than recommended by the pyramid were 20% to 40% less likely to develop chronic disease than those whose diets more closely matched the USDA guidelines.

"The Food Pyramid is flawed," says study author Walter Willet, MD, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard University School of Public Health. "It says all fats are bad, all complex carbohydrates are good, all protein sources offer the same nutrition, and dairy should be eaten in high amounts."

More specifically, the Pyramid recommends eating the following every day:

  • 6 to 11 servings of carbohydrates such as bread, cereal, rice, and pasta.
  • 3 to 5 servings of vegetables.
  • 2 to 4 servings of fruit.
  • 2 to 3 servings of dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese).
  • 2 to 3 servings of protein (meat, fish, eggs, poultry, dry beans, nuts).
  • As few fats, oils, and sweets as possible.

Goodbye, Pyramid?