Harvard’s Alternative Eating Index May Be a Better Game Plan

Food-pyramidEveryone knows the USDA Food Pyramid from grade school. Harvard researchers claim to have come up with a better alternative.

Compare the two yourself and see if you agree. Harvard’s Pyramid is here , and the current USDA Food Pyramid is here.

At first glance, there are very few differences. Even a hunt on the web reveals no clear and easy way to grasp the comparison. Even though the USDA Food Pyramid was updated since Harvard released their’s, there are still differences. But what are the real differences for the dueling dietary pyramids?

Opening the two guides side-by-side makes it easier to compare 6 points:

Activity

The biggest area on both guidelines show exercise as being the most important factor. Harvard’s adds the importance of weight control. This could be a significant difference as not everyone can control their weight just through exercise.

Carbohydrates/Grains

Presently, Manhattan Physical Exams office recommends three ounces of whole grains a day. Harvard’s doesn’t focus on specific measurements, but says  whole grain products should be a large part of the daily diet.

It is important to note that when Harvard unveiled their recommendation, the USDA recommended six servings of complex carbohydrates instead of putting emphasis on whole grains. Maybe the USDA updated their chart to fall more in line with Harvard’s recommendations.

Fruits/Vegetables

Both groups emphasize eating lots of fruits and vegetables. While the USDA includes dried peas and beans, Harvard’s places more emphasis on vegetables over fruit.

Fats

The biggest difference is here. The USDA suggests limiting all fats and oils while Harvard’s suggests a big part of daily food intake needs to come from healthy fats. Good point; not all fats are bad. Both charts show that limiting saturated fats is good, but Harvard’s show the important part played by healthy fats in preventing some diseases.

Proteins

The USDA places less emphasis on fish, beans and nuts as important sources for proteins than the Harvard chart. The health benefits derived from lean proteins in these sources has been shown to reduce the risk of disease over dairy products — which has been given more emphasis on the USDA chart.

Dairy

The USDA places more value on dairy products than lean protein sources compared to Harvard’s chart. The USDA recommends low-fat-or fat-free dairy choices, but still emphasizing a need for consuming calcium. Harvard limits a daily calcium intake because of the belief that excess calcium may cause health risks.

Multivitamin

Most people need a daily multivitamin according to Harvard. Some observers disagree with Harvard’s reasoning, sayinig multivitamins should be reserved for those who are not getting the recommended daily allowance n their diet of whole foods. There may be something to that. Natural sources carry a lower risk of overdose from natural sources.

Which is the Better Guideline?

While Harvard’s suggestions are more detailed and based on research to prevent certain diseases, it is still a pyramid based on the one-size-fits-all concept. There are other factors of how each body works as well as health conditions to consider before just sticking with one recommendation or the other.

What works for one may not for someone else. Anyone with medical conditions that need adjustments to their diet should consult with their physician for guidance on which guide, Harvard’s Alternative Healthy Eating Index or the USDA Food Pyramid, to use.