Dr. Fuhrman applies Nutritarian principles to the USDA’s classic Food Pyramid – and rebuilds it to help you achieve excellent health and extended longevity
My Nutritarian Food Pyramid is based on the principles of high-nutrient eating as illustrated by the Health Equation:
Health = Nutrients / Calories (H = N / C)
In 1992, the USDA unveiled its Food Pyramid, a blueprint to guide Americans toward a healthier eating style. But the pyramid fell short – it did not depict a health-promoting diet. Instead, it placed excessive emphasis on processed foods; breads, pasta, cereal, and rice were recommended at up to 11 servings per day. Meanwhile, there was not enough emphasis on vegetables and fruits, with recommendations of only 5 and 4 servings per day. Animal products were recommended at up to 6 servings, and at the top of the pyramid was the recommendation to use fats, oils and sweets sparingly.
Just think about it: A combined 17 servings of white flour products, processed grains and animal products, versus 5 servings of vegetables. Even for non-Nutritarians, that does not appear healthful.
Here are just a few problems with the USDA Food Pyramid model:
The USDA’s food pyramid combined meat and beans into one category. Both meat and beans are sources of protein, but it is important to differentiate between the two. Meat poses health risks due to their animal protein and saturated fat content, and the formation of carcinogens during the cooking process. Beans are a health-promoting alternative. The plant protein in beans is packaged with fiber and phytochemicals. Meat contains no fiber or phytochemicals. Beans help you maintain your weight by promoting satiety; they also protect against cancer, and help to keep cholesterol levels down. In my Nutritarian pyramid, beans are recommended daily and meat is limited to two servings or less per week.
Related: Eat Plant Protein to Live Longer
The USDA models encourages the consumption of dairy products – however, these are not essential for good health. Dairy products contribute saturated fat and animal protein, both of which should be limited to prevent chronic disease.
Related: Got Non-Dairy Milk?
Related: Got Non-Dairy Milk? (Part 2)
In 2011, the USDA replaced the Food Pyramid with MyPlate, meant to be a more intuitive and user-friendly eating guide. MyPlate reflects an improvement, as there is a larger emphasis on the importance of vegetables and fruits: MyPlate instructs individuals to fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables. However, there is still a recommendation for daily meat and dairy.
Vegetables and grains appear equal in proportion, with fruit and protein also mirroring one another. Not too terrible if the protein is beans, nuts, and seeds, but the graphic doesn’t make that recommendation. “Grains” still doesn’t differentiate between refined grains and whole grains. Dairy is shown as a satellite “glass” image beside the plate. This meant that animal products and refined carbohydrate still dominate the recommendations.
The USDA has conflicting mandates: to provide educational material on nutrition, but also to promote the consumption of U.S. agricultural products, among which many are not health-promoting – like meat and dairy. The pyramid is the most familiar graphic for illustrating the makeup of a healthful diet , but it needed a major shakeup. That’s why I created my Nutritarian Food Pyramid.
In my Nutritarian Food Pyramid, low-calorie, nutrient dense foods form the base of the diet structure, and high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods are at the narrowest point. It’s a visual representation of what your diet should look like, in terms of proportion.
The vegetables – both raw and cooked – at the bottom take up the most room on the pyramid, and these should be the foods you eat the most.
The meats, sweets, cheese, and processed foods take up the smallest amount of space on the pyramid, and are the foods you should eat very little of, if any at all.
Nutritional science in the last 30 years has demonstrated that colorful plant foods contain a huge assortment of protective compounds, most of which still remain unnamed. Only by eating an assortment of nutrient-rich natural foods can we access these protective compounds and prevent the common diseases that afflict Americans. Our modern, low-nutrient eating style has led to an overweight population, the majority of whom develop diseases of nutritional ignorance, which causes our medical costs to spiral out of control.
The foundation of Nutritarian diet is made up of vegetables: leafy and cruciferous greens and other colorful vegetables and plants. These are the foods with the highest ratios of nutrients to calories (highest ANDI or Nutrient IQ score). Ninety percent of your daily diet should be made up of nutrient-rich plant foods, whose calories are accompanied by health-promoting phytochemicals: green and other non-starchy vegetables, especially mushrooms and tomatoes; fresh fruits; beans and legumes (including soybeans); raw nuts, seeds, and avocados; starchy vegetables; and intact whole grains.
If desired, the remaining 10% of your diet may include minimally processed foods such as whole-grain tortillas, tofu, and coarsely-ground or sprouted whole grain breads or cereals. A limited amount of animal products, preferably not more than 5% of total caloric intake, may be included.
By keeping low-nutrient foods to a minimum, and striving to eat at least 90% of calories from the unrefined plant foods that comprise the base of the pyramid each day, you construct a health-promoting, disease-preventing diet. This high nutrient eating style is considered a Nutritarian diet.
My Nutritarian Pyramid is based on the foods that are the richest in micronutrients and have shown consistent benefits to health and longevity in scientific studies. The USDA’s guidelines often treat these protective foods as “side dishes,” and allows the vast majority of calories to be obtained from nutrient-poor foods.
Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a board-certified family physician, seven-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing, who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional methods. Dr. Fuhrman coined the term “Nutritarian” to describe his longevity-promoting, nutrient dense, plant-rich eating style.
For over 30 years, Dr. Fuhrman has shown that it is possible to achieve sustainable weight loss and reverse heart disease, diabetes and many other illnesses using smart nutrition. In his medical practice, and through his books and PBS television specials, he continues to bring this life-saving message to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
*There is no guarantee of specific results. Results can vary. All material provided on the DrFuhrman.com website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a physician regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.