Monday, March 28, 2005

The food pyramid and science

This op-ed (also here) says:

They're going to change our nutritional guidelines again -- flip-flop the pyramid, or make it a wheel, or a ...

Well, I have an idea for the new, improved icon. Make it the shape of a cookie jar or a Starbucks mug, but don't just tell me what I must eat or what I can't swallow if I want to live to be 100. Instead, also tell me how much of the really good stuff I can chow down without seriously endangering my health.

And I do mean seriously. I know red wine is on the OK list, and that is good news because it happens to be my vino of choice. But how many margaritas before I'm on the endangered species list? ...
She is trying to be funny, but she has a good point. Most nutritional advice is very unscientific because it doesn't give limits and consequences. Nutritionists often say that a candy bar is bad food because it has "empty calories". In fact, there is hardly any scientific evidence that such food is bad in any way if it is part of a balanced diet.

I ate lunch with a friend yesterday, and he badmouthed one kind of food because it has a lot of protein, and then another kind of food because it was fatty, and finally a third kind of food because it has carbohydrates! What else is there? The ideal diet has fat, protein, and carbohydrates, and no food can possibly be bad just because it is fatty or surgary.

Another friend was shocked that a school was serving Burger King whoppers for lunch. Whoppers are actually quite nutritious and beneficial. I don't know any scientific evidence that any other food is better.

There is a small percentage of the population (maybe 5%) that has adverse health consequences from eating cholesterol, and other small percentages that are advised to avoid salt or sugar or other common foods. But for most people, these foods are fine.

A scientific food pyramid would not just list ideal foods. It would describe a range of foods that can be eaten while still maintaining optimal health, even if that range includes candy bars, vodka, donuts, etc.

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