I just stumbled across The Honest Food Guide (click here to download a PDF copy), described as “the food guide to benefit you, not Big Business”. In case you are wondering what that’s about, it is a direct response to powerful food lobbies that have influenced official dietary recommendations for decades. Marion Nestle’s brilliant book Food Politics covers this in great detail.
Some people claim this should be “the new Pyramid”. While it makes some great points, I have some problems with it.
WHAT I LIKE:
1. The detailed categories. Nuts and seeds are their own categories, not “meat substitutes”. They have their own unique health benefits, and need to be considered for more than protein equivalencies. Similarly, vegetables and sea vegetables are considered two different items (as they should be; sea vegetables’ nutrient makeup is different).
2. The inclusion of sunlight and water. Physical activity should be the third non-food item, though!
3. Rather than make a “low-fat” or “low-carb” argument, the Honest Food Guide is highly “low-processed”. Love that!
4. At its core, it encourages the consumption of healthy foods. Unlike the Food Pyramid, it does not try to make the case, for example, that a slice of white bread and half a cup of quinoa are identical “grain servings”.
5. The brief explanations next to each item make a clear point — hydrogenated oils, white flour, added sugars, artificial dyes, and foods high in sodium need to be limited.
6. The not-so-subtle dig at the conventional food pyramid (notice that The Honest Food Guide is essentially an upside-down pyramid!)
WHAT I DON’T LIKE:
1. The notion that “bad foods” cause aggressive behavior and learning disabilities is a stretch. This especially bothers me because it adds an element of unnecessary hyperbole and fear-mongering.
2. “Blackstrap molasses” as an encouraged food? I don’t agree. No added sweetener should ever be an encouraged food.
3. Canned soups are a “dead food”? Clearly, this is not a raw-foodists’ food guide, since cooked foods like whole grains and tofu are included, so why are canned soups singled out? Besides, there is great variety in canned soups. Yes, you have your sodium-loaded health hazards, but you also have low-sodium healthful bean/lentil-based varieties with wholesome ingredient lists.
4. I don’t like the message that grass-fed yogurt and diet soda are “equally unhealthy”. They’re not.
5. The encouraged soy foods (tofu and soymilk) are rather processed. Tempeh, natto, and edamame are much better soy-based options (tempeh and natto are fermented, and therefore have more bioavailable nutrients; edamame is “baby soybeans”, which means its anti-nutrient levels are lower than full-grown soybeans).
6. Although many instant rices and grains are refined, there are many brands out there that are 100% whole grain.
7. I don’t think whole-food concentrates are necessary, nor do I think spirulina should be singled out for its protein content. Not only is it not that high, this tidbit also enforces the stereotype that we are all protein-starved and must consistently seek out high-protein foods.
8. I heartily disagree with the encouraging of rice and soy protein. Soy protein powders are made from highly-processed soy protein isolate.
9. Why are beans and legumes absent from the “health” side?
10. I don’t like the idea that the absence of fiber is reason enough to place a food on the “disease side”. Healthful proteins like salmon, shrimp, and tuna contain no fiber, but that does not make them “disease-promoting”. Besides, tofu has no fiber and yet it is on the “health” side of the guide.
The Honest Food Guide is a start. It certainly makes more specific recommendations than MyPyramid, and gives much overdue attention to the health benefits of nuts, seeds, sea vegetables, and sprouted grains. However, the “health” and “disease” dichotomy is limiting. A spectrum would be much more useful (organic, grass-fed dairy is very different from that produced by hormone and antibiotic-loaded confined cows in “milk factories”).