The New Four Food Groups

The USDA’s Basic Four Food Groups appeared in the 1950’s:

(1) meats, poultry, fish, dry beans and peas, eggs, and nuts
(2) dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
(3) grains
(4) fruits and vegetables

Until 1992 this combo of foods was the central component of nutrition education in the US and it was believed to be the final word on nutrition by all Americans. Then there was the Food Guide Pyramid:

According to Harvard School of Public Health, “the information embodied in this pyramid didn’t point the way to healthy eating. Its blueprint was based on shaky scientific evidence.” Then in 2005 the USDA introduced MyPyramid, which Harvard calls “the old Pyramid turned on its side, sans any explanatory text” that brought many critics.
Every five years a document called the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is updated. In 2005 there was a 13-person committee that gave scientific advice to the government so that the USDA in turn could update its eating plan. Well, what followed was considered by at least one person on that committee to be a “very disappointing [and] poor picture of the guidelines”1. MyPyramid does not accurately portray the main messages from the guidelines and it also makes some recommendations that are not the best nutrition advice. Dr. Walter Willett from the Harvard Heart Letter editorial board says that “lumping together red meat, poultry, fish, and beans as equally healthful protein sources sidesteps the evidence that eating less red meat … offers numerous health benefits” and the recommendation to have three servings of dairy “ignores the fact that … there are better ways to get calcium for bone health”1.

In 2011, the USDA introduced MyPlate. This information is very sparse and isn’t specific enough to inform us what types of these foods we should eat. For grains, we could be led to believe white bread and white rice are just as good as whole grains (which aren’t). For protein, we could put a hot dog, bacon, or hamburger in there as opposed to much healthier sources of protein like beans, legumes, some vegetables, nuts, and nut milks. For veggies, this plate doesn’t tell the difference between starchy potatoes and other types of vegetables that have high benefits. Missing from this plate is fat. There should be something in there that includes healthy oils like olive oil or other plant oils and it should recommend people not having butter and trans fat. And now dairy. Harvard says “MyPlate recommends dairy at every meal even though there is little if any evidence that high dairy intakes protect against osteoporosis, and there is considerable evidence that too-high intakes can be harmful”4.

Now let’s talk about the background of these plates and groups and pyramids. We know that the USDA seems to be the originator of this information, but what they don’t want everyone to know is who they were–and still are–influenced by. PBS says that over the last 50 years, the meat industry has grown “accustomed to having powerful friends in the upper levels of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.” As just one small example among many such relationships, take a closer look at the 1995 e.Coli outbreak and USDA’s reaction to it: After the outbreak, the USDA wanted to immediately issue new food regulations, one of them including salmonella testing in ground beef. The meat industry of course panicked and didn’t want this to start happening because it meant they would lose business after people found out all that was wrong in their meat. So the meat industry influenced key rule makers in the government to put forward an amendment to stop the USDA from issuing its new regulations! The agricultural industry gave $65,000 to a republican named James Walsh in New York to “force the USDA to conduct more extensive hearings, thus delaying implementation of the new food-safety system”6  The New York Times said that one of the top authors of the amendment was a lawyer from the National Meat Association. After much debate and voting and other political proceedings, one of which was Supreme Beef vs USDA, “an appeals court ruled in favor of Supreme Beef, saying the USDA could not shut down a plant solely based on salmonella levels in ground beef and now there is neither a regulation nor a law in place to give the USDA enforcement power based on testing for salmonella.”6

Like I said, that is only one example of the many shady things going on behind the scenes of politics and their relationship to meat and dairy industries. This affects us very much. The USDA is trying to keep us safe, but how can it when its voters of regulations are getting paid by the meat and dairy industries, not only in lobbying but also because most of the political giants also hold stock and shares in meat and dairy corporations?! This is the exact reason why the New Four Food Groups hasn’t yet made it through the USDA approval list: it’s a food guide that doesn’t include meat or dairy. At all. It’s the healthiest option for humans today and yet the government won’t let us have that information because corrupt politicians are getting paid to repress this information. Well, I’m giving you the information now, and I recommend you ditch the MyPlate or MyPyramid or whatever advice comes from the government and follow this instead [information and images are property of the PCRM7]:

3 or more servings a day
Fruits are rich in fiber, vitamin C, and beta-carotene. Be sure to include at least one serving each day of fruits that are high in vitamin C—citrus fruits, melons, and strawberries are all good choices. Choose whole fruit over fruit juices, which do not contain very much fiber.Serving size: 1 medium piece of fruit • 1/2 cup cooked fruit • 4 ounces juice
2 or more servings a day
Legumes, which is another name for beans, peas, and lentils, are all good sources of fiber, protein, iron, calcium, zinc, and B vitamins. This group also includes chickpeas, baked and refried beans, soymilk, tempeh, and texturized vegetable protein.Serving size: 1/2 cup cooked beans • 4 ounces tofu or tempeh • 8 ounces soymilk
Whole Grains
5 or more servings a day
This group includes bread, rice, tortillas, pasta, hot or cold cereal, corn, millet, barley, and bulgur wheat. Build each of your meals around a hearty grain dish—grains are rich in fiber and other complex carbohydrates, as well as protein, B vitamins, and zinc.Serving size: 1/2 cup rice or other grain • 1 ounce dry cereal • 1 slice bread
4 or more servings a day
Vegetables are packed with nutrients; they provide vitamin C, beta-carotene, riboflavin, iron, calcium, fiber, and other nutrients. Dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, collards, kale, mustard and turnip greens, chicory, or cabbage are especially good sources of these important nutrients. Dark yellow and orange vegetables such as carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin provide extra beta-carotene. Include generous portions of a variety of vegetables in your diet.Serving size: 1 cup raw vegetables • 1/2 cup cooked vegetables

Download the printable reference sheet here:

1. The riddle of MyPyramid. The new food pyramid makes a mystery of healthful eating. (2006). Harvard Heart Letter: From Harvard Medical School, 16(8), 3.
4. Harvard Calls USDA’s Food Plate Inadequate. (2011). Running & FitNews, 29(4), 1.
5. Now being served, better nutrition advice. (2011). Harvard Health Letter, 37(1), 4-5.


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