Harvard researching claim to have better dietary guidelines than the USDA Food Pyramid with their Alternative Healthy Eating Index. What are the differences in Harvard’s Alternative Healthy Eating Index versus the USDA Food Pyramid?
You can find Harvard’s Alternative Healthy Eating Index pyramid here and the current USDA Food Pyramid here.
Seriously, upon first comparison, I saw little if any difference between the two pyramids. I could not find any clear and easy to understand comparison of the two when searching the web. Part of the reason is that the USDA Food Pyramid was updated since the release of Harvard’s plan, but there are still notable differences between the two. What are the real differences between these pyramids’ set of dietary guidelines?
I will not go into detail about the contents of each pyramid, as you can see for yourself what each pyramid consists of by clicking the links above. If you open the links in separate tabs, you can switch back and forth to view and compare the two pyramids. Let’s compare the two.
Activity. The largest area on both the Alternative Healthy Eating Index and the Food Pyramid show exercise as being the most important factor of lifestyle and dietary guidelines. Harvard’s pyramid adds the importance of weight control. This is an important difference, as not all people can control their weight with exercise alone.
Carbohydrates and Grains. Currently, the Food Pyramid recommends three ounces of whole grains a day, where the Alternative Healthy Index does not give recommendations for number of servings, just that whole grain products should make up a large part of your diet. It is important to note that when Harvard put out their recommendations, the Food Pyramid recommended six to eleven servings of complex carbohydrates rather than placing emphasis on whole grains. It appears that perhaps the USDA updated the Food Pyramid in response to Harvard’s recommendations.
Fruits and Vegetables. Both pyramids place emphasis on eating lots of fruits and vegetables. The USDA Food Pyramid includes dried peas and beans with their vegetables, which can be misleading as these can also be considered good sources of healthy protein. The Food Pyramid also places emphasis on dark colored vegetables and adds the need to reduce fruit juice which can be high in natural sugar. Harvard’s pyramid pictures a greater concentration of vegetables over fruit.
Fats. Here’s where the two pyramids show the biggest difference. The Food Pyramid recommends limiting all fats and oils while the Alternative Healthy Eating Index recommends a large part of your food intake should come from healthy fats. Not all fats are bad. Limiting saturated fats is a good idea shown in both pyramids, but Harvard’s guidelines show the importance that healthy fats play in the prevention of certain diseases.
Proteins. Harvard’s Alternative Healthy Eating Index places the next importance on lean proteins, such as from fish, beans and nuts. He USDA Food Pyramid places less emphasis on the importance of these sources, although the health benefits of lean proteins has been shown to reduce the risk of disease over dairy (which has more emphasis on the Food Pyramid).
Dairy. The USDA gives more importance to dairy products over lean protein sources than does Harvard. The Food Pyramid is good in recommending low-fat or fat-free choices for dairy, but still place an emphasis on the consumption of calcium. The Alternative Healthy Eating Index places a limit on calcium through the belief that excess calcium can cause health risks.
Multivitamin. Harvard recommends a daily multivitamin for most people. This is shown at the bottom with exercise and weight control. Personally, I don’t agree with this reasoning. Multivitamins and other supplements should be reserved for those who are not getting the recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals from whole foods in their diets, or for those whose vitamin and mineral levels are affected by medications or other conditions. Natural sources are always better, and there is less risk of overdose from natural sources.
Is One Set of Guidelines Better than the Other? Though Harvard’s recommendations are a little more detailed and are based no research to prevent certain diseases and health risks, it is still a pyramid based on the one-size-fits-all approach. There are many personal factors of how each person’s body works as well as health conditions to consider before sticking with just one set of recommendations.
What works for one person may not work for another. If you have medical conditions that require dietary changes or are just looking for a way to improve your diet, talk with your doctor to see if you would benefit by switching to Harvard’s Alternative Healthy Eating Index versus the USDA Food Pyramid.
THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND SHOULD NOT REPLACE THE ADVICE OF A PHYSICIAN. TALK WITH YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE SWITCHING YOUR EATING HABITS, ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE ANY MEDICAL CONDITIONS OR ARE TAKING ANY MEDICATIONS.
Harvard School of Medicine; The Nutrition Source, Healthy Eating Pyramid
United States Department of Agriculture; Inside the Pyramid