Monday, September 26, 2011 Replaces The "Food Pyramid" And Harvard Recommends Improvements. Did They Go Far Enough?

I'm sure you can suggest improvements in just a quick glance!

Follow Foods For Long Life on FACEBOOK !

Where can we go for Nutritional Advice?
When advice on healthful eating is needed, many people ask their doctors. Unfortunately our medical schools spend precious little time teaching nutrition. I remember my gastrointestinal specialist bragging about a New York deli that made the best pastrami sandwich he had ever eaten after hearing I was originally from that part of the country. This was back when I was suffering from reflux! I'm sure he wasn't recommending pastrami for my reflux but I did think it was odd for him to even admit he ate food like that being a GI doctor and all.
Next stop might be the United States Department of Agriculture. Really? The same USDA that has numerous ties to the meat and dairy industries? With all the dairy they continue to push on the American people, I find it hard to believe that their hearts are in the right place. But they do have some newly published information which you can get at
I've been asked a number of times what I think of their new dietary recommendations. After much thought on how to frame my opinion, I finally decided to write a little something on the subject. I was actually inspired to do so after seeing that Harvard has come forward with their own recommendation, the Healthy Eating Plate. Although I felt the Harvard version made some good improvements, I'd like to add a few finishing touches. 

Harvard's improvements to

How they Differ
First of all, I'd like to give a standing O to Harvard for visually removing the glass of dairy from the plate and replacing it with water! Harvard also suggests coffee or tea (with little sugar). They recommend limiting milk and dairy to one or two servings a day stating that "high intakes are associated with increased risk of prostate cancer and possibly ovarian cancer".  The USDA recommends everyone over 8 to drink 3 cups of milk per day. They are so wedded to dairy that they even recommend it to those who are lactose intolerant. Seriously, you can't make this stuff up! They say, "For those who are lactose intolerant, smaller portions (such as 4 fluid ounces of milk) may be well tolerated". I can't imagine recommending milk, in any amount, to someone who is allergic to milk!
Other key differences are:
* Although both show half the plate with colorful fruits and veggies, Harvard recommends eating more veggies than fruits. This makes sense since fruits can contain lots of natural sugar. 
* Harvard doesn't count French fries or potatoes toward the daily vegetable requirement. 
* Harvard encourages the consumption of whole grains and recommends limiting white rice and white bread. The USDA plate just says, "grains" although, in the fine print, they say to make at least half of them whole grains. Not really a big difference here.
* The USDA's MyPlate doesn't mention good fats at all. Harvard mentions using olive and canola oil on salads and for cooking and say to limit butter and avoid trans fat completely. 
* For protein, the USDA points out the need for omega-3 rich fish and recommends eating at least 8 ounces per week of cooked seafood, such as salmon, trout, sardines, anchovies, herring, Pacific oysters and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel. Being sensitive to vegetarians, they state that this recommendation did not apply to them although they did not guide vegetarians on what to do for this important nutrient. They also recommend lean meats, poultry, beans and peas, eggs, nuts and seeds. 
Harvard uses the term "Healthy Protein"  and recommends fish, poultry, beans or nuts. They specifically say to limit read meat and avoid processed meat completely since "eating even small quantities of these foods on a regular basis raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, and weight gain". 
* Harvard has a running figure at the bottom of the placemat to encourage people to exercise, reminding us that a healthy diet is just half of the equation!

My Personal Opinion
As a nutritionist (not someone who writes a vegan blog), here's my opinion:
* My favorite, healthful beverage is slightly alkaline water. After all, the body is around 60% water and our blood is over 80%! I also enjoy good green tea as a beverage. Instead of dairy milk, I use home-made, or ready-made, fortified soy or nut milks on my cereal or in my smoothies. Although I'm occasionally tempted by fresh mozzarella and aged parmesan (like most Italians are), dairy is simply not required in the diet and can be down right harmful. Although a $165M ad campaign would have you think milk is the best source of calcium, it is not. Dairy causes the body to actually draw calcium from your bones in order to neutralize its acidity. It's also mucous forming and will contribute to your child getting ear infections and other respiratory problems. Its consumption is now associated with diseases like arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and others. Learn more about milk by checking out the Got the facts on Milk Documentary.

We drink alkaline water but any fresh, filtered water will do. Water is far superior, as a beverage, than dairy milk.

* With respect to removing the potato from the veggie column, I certainly agree that French fries shouldn't count but I'll allow a nice, baked sweet potato or yam any day! Just make sure there are lots of green veggies along with it!
* I agree with the emphasis on whole grains, of course. I would even go further and encourage people to frequently include gluten free grains and pastas.
* With regard to fats, there is a big movement afoot that would eliminate concentrated oils from our diet. Unless you are trying to reverse cardiovascular disease or are on a calorie restricted diet, I do not think you need to do this. I would, however, limit oil consumption to a modest amount of unrefined oils such as extra virgin olive oil and cold pressed flax seed oil. I don't usually recommend canola oil because it's difficult to find one that is non-GMO. But if you can find canola that is non-GMO and made from low erucic acid rapeseed, it has a good omega-3/omega-6 profile. Of course the best source of good fats is from avocados, nuts and seeds focusing on the omega-3 power seeds: Chia, Hemp and Flax.
* From a strictly nutritional point of view, you can get adequate protein from non-meat sources like tofu, beans, nuts, grains, etc.  I do think, however, it gets nutritionally challenging for a vegan or a raw food vegan to get sufficient EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acid. Most people do not convert much of the ALA omega-3 obtained from flax, chia and hemp seeds to the much needed EPA and DHA. Vegans can and should take algae based omega 3 supplements, especially when pregnant or breast feeding. For those of you who eat fish, the best source is wild caught salmon and the other low mercury fish (see my post on Best fish and vegetarian sources of omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids). Although canned anchovies are a good source of omega-3, I do not usually recommend them to fish eaters due to their high sodium content.

Sprouted or regular tofu is an excellent source of protein.

* Another comment on protein - both the USDA and Harvard show one quarter of the plate filled with protein. If your source of protein is tofu or beans, this is appropriate. But if your source is animal food, especially if you are adding a few glasses of milk with it, the amount of protein can be excessive. A monumental piece of research, done by T. Colin Campbell, is documented in the book, "The China Study". When comparing the diets of 6,500 adults across 65 counties in rural China, he found that those participants who consumed only 9-10% of their calories as protein, with only 10% of that coming from animal protein sources, had cholesterol levels below 100 mg/dL! Common degenerative disorders like heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis and other western diseases were significantly lower in this group than in the U.S. Much of this research is described in the excellent movie, "Forks over Knives". So if you consume dairy or meat, protein should be a very small percentage of the plate.

To Sum it Up
* At least half of your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables (more veggies than fruits).
* Drink clean water and avoid soda and high calorie beverages. Avoid dairy milk after infancy.
* Fill the other half of your plate with whole grains and plant-based proteins such as tofu and beans.
* Avoid cheese and other dairy products.
* If you eat animal products - stick to low mercury, high omega-3 fish like wild, line-caught salmon. 
* Vegans should supplement with algae-based DHA and EPA, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
* Eat a modest amount of good fats.
* Most of all, take time to sit down with loved ones and appreciate and enjoy your meals!


Anonymous said...

brinkka2011 says: I enjoy you because of all of your effort on this site. Its been an motivation for me. I've passed this onto a friend of mine.

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

And feedback like yours is a motivation for me. Thanks!

heylisab said...

How is it that you drink alkaline water?
I've been looking for a way to get more alkaline balance in my diet and water seems like a great way to go.
Any more info?

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

We installed an alkaline water system in our house several years ago. My husband Doug can tell you more about them - his email address is