What’s Wrong With the Food Pyramid

The food pyramid never reflected the scientific knowledge of the time. It may have started life with good intentions, but bad influence led it astray.

The once ubiquitous food pyramid has now been replaced by my MyPlate, but it doesn’t hurt to examine it one more time to understand where we came from in terms of food recommendations.

For a better understanding of how the food pyramid came to be, a great read is Denise Minger’s Death by Food Pyramid. In spite of its funny, not-so-subtle title, it is a very serious investigation of the forces that conspired to create the monster.

On the topic, see also Marion Nestle’s Food Politics. Marion Nestle was the editor of the 1988 Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health.

In this post, we’ll just comment on the result:

Food pyramid

The pyramid implies that starches (grain, cereals, bread) should constitute the basis of our food. This might have been true at the dawn of mankind, when calories were scarce. Agriculture and grains allowed large populations to be fed, and with the division of labor came the arts, politics, war, in short, civilization. But when consumed on top of everything else we eat now, grains become a liability: our body is not equipped to deal with the large amounts of starch and sugar that are effortlessly available nowadays.

The popular belief is that starches are needed for energy. This is plainly not true (but this will require a separate blog post to itself).

Fats appear at the very top of the pyramid: the proportion is not so bad (after all, fats are very dense nutritionally, and a little bit goes a long way), but it instills an unnecessary fear of fats: fat plays an important role in our body, we need fat for our brain, membranes and more.

The popular belief is that eating fat makes you fat. This is also false. (Look for a future post on the subject.)

ERFOE Food pyramid
A non-USDA-sponsored food pyramid (still not ideal, but better).

The rest of the pyramid is more or less OK. We could argue that fruits are not really necessary since you get more vitamins and micronutrients from non-starchy colorful vegetables than from fruit, but this is in the noise level compared to the rest. So in fact, the food pyramid would not be so bad if we just cut off its bottom.


The “MyPlate” recommendation is a slight improvement over the food pyramid. But:


  • Even though it has reduced the recommended proportion of grains, it still implies that grains are a basic food group.
  • We don’t agree that grains are a food group, or that fruits are necessary at all.
  • The proportion of proteins in “Myplate” seems reasonable, but the fats are completely missing from the picture.
  • In our mind, dairy is not necessarily a glass of milk (as implied by the drawing), and not an add on: it is part of the protein and fats.

Grains are not a basic food group!
The indispensable, basic macronutrients are:
– Proteins
– Fats and
– Carbohydrates.

Cereals, starches and grains are not a separate food group: they are mostly carbohydrates. Eating a balanced diet doesn’t imply that you must include a proportion of starches and grains. Eating colorful, nutrient-dense vegetables will bring a fairly large amount of carbohydrates and fiber.

The ERFOE Ideal Plate

ideal plate

The plate that we advocate consists of:

 1/4 Proteins
 3/4 Colorful vegetables
No sugars or starches or cereal

This “ideal plate” is designed to provide enough micronutrients and macronutrients. Proteins can be animal or vegetal. They include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds.

It is assumed that vegetables are cooked or seasoned with fats. Protein generally comes with built-in fat. Fat is important and greatly contributes to satiety: in the vegetable portion of your plate, half of the calories might come from fat (this is, however, not much in volume).

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Cauliflower Crust Savory Pies

This cauliflower preparation can serve as a crust substitute in many savory pies. In fact, it does such a good job that it’s hard to remember the crust is not made of flour. (And it is probably single-handedly responsible for the much feared cauliflower shortage recently mentioned in the Wall Street Journal.)

Although a far cry from the real Neapolitan thing, this method yields a reasonably crunchy crust, if you resist the temptation to pile the topping on too thick.

However, this is probably not the best way to eat cauliflower. By squeezing the water out, we end up with a higher concentration of starches: after all, what makes cauliflower a low-starch food is that it is made of 94% water (whereas a potato is only 78% water). Another undesirable effect is that nutrients escape when squeezing the water out. Still, for nutrients and fiber, this is a lot better than wheat flour.

For a 10” crust, serves 4 (only!)

  • 4 cups grated cauliflower florets (1 medium head)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 oz shredded Swiss cheese
  • 1 tablespoon oil

Flamenkuchen topping (forgive me, Jean):

  • 4 oz onion, minced
  • 3 oz bacon, cut into matchsticks
  • 4 tablespoons sour cream

Pizza topping example (forgive me, Roberto):

  • Fresh tomato slices
  • Tomato paste
  • Mozzarella
  • Olives
  • Anchovies

Continue reading “Cauliflower Crust Savory Pies”

Don’t Eat Cauliflower to Lose Weight!

A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal (Feb.2, 2016) is calling attention to the astonishing possibility of a cauliflower shortage. According to the article, cauliflower has become very popular in the U.S. lately: this is mainly because many people who cut carbohydrates in an effort to lose weight are turning to cauliflower as a low-carb substitute to starchy foods.

To which I say:
Don’t eat cauliflower to lose weight!
Eat cauliflower because:

Cauliflower - orange

  • It is replete with nutrients. As a member of the cruciferous family, it is rich in sulphoraphanes, which have many beneficial properties: in particular they protect against UV radiation, contribute to joint health and help the immune system fight cancer.

But don’t focus on any single micronutrient in your food: just eat real food such as (but not limited to) cauliflower and know that it brings you many of the micronutrients that your body needs to thrive!

Cauliflower - green

  • Yes, cauliflower has a low starch/sugar contents. Consuming less starch will probably result in weight loss for those who need it: starch and sugar are converted into body fat, and the insulin resulting from high blood sugar tells your metabolism to go into “storage” mode.

Sugar and starches are very nefarious to your body in many other ways. So the benefits of replacing starchy foods by non-starchy vegetables go way beyond weight loss.

  • Cauliflower tastes great and is, in fact, very versatile. (See recipe in upcoming post.) In comes in several colors that bring different nutrients to your body. So try them all!

And if indeed, one head of cauliflower seems expensive, think of how much more nutrition it brings compared to those boxes of cereals that people routinely buy.