When I was in the first grade, a troupe of actors came to our school and put on a play about nutrition. The play was about the four basic food groups. And, I remember being in total awe as a tall, gangly carrot waltzed with a giddy slice of white bread.
In fact, and I kid you not – when the ham hock found his missing friend, the milk carton, I was completely transported. I don’t think I even remembered I was sitting in the school gymnasium.
I was so excited by the production, my jaw dropped – literally. And, I remember my first grade teacher, Mrs. McKeen, gently pushing on my chin to place my jaw back in place where it belonged.
Today, when I think about the way they taught us about nutrition in grade school, my jaw drops again… not because of singing chicken legs or cheese slices, but because I can’t believe how wrong they were about what they were teaching us!
Now, remember that food pyramid we were all forced to study – the one put out by the Department of Health and Human Services when we were in school? Well, here it is again for reference –
When I look at this pyramid, it’s no wonder we’ve got so many people struggling with their weight and understanding of good nutrition. The foundation of the thing is bread, pasta, cereal, and more bread.
That means the foundation of this outdated pyramid is one of the food groups likely containing more additives than any other food group.
For instance, bread products often contain added preservatives and ingredients like food dyes, high-fructose corn syrup, or even the dangerous chemical azodicarbonamide – aka the yoga-mat chemical. That’s the material put in sandals and yoga mats to give them cushion – it was put in bread for years as a bleaching agent or to give the bread bounce or fluffiness.
Do I want chemicals like that in my food? No thank you. Also, it makes it look like eating 11 slices of bread per day is okay. And I think we can agree it most certainly is not okay.
Why doesn’t the old pyramid work?
There are several reasons the old pyramid just doesn’t work anymore. And all we really have to do is listen to the struggles of so many. Take the folks that have come into my office, for instance.
Now, I’ve been working with concerned, hopeful patients for a long time – decades. And I’ve heard them tell me about the struggles of being overweight or even underweight. I’ve talked to folks with constant digestive issues. Or they’ve mentioned brain fog, fatigue, stiff joints, and unhealthy skin. For me, so many of these concerns start with one common denominator – our diet.
You see, if we’ve all be schooled improperly, how are we supposed to help food help us? If what we think is right is wrong, how can we bring ourselves back to optimal health?
Well, I’ve been working on this for a long time and I’m so thrilled to finally share –
A brand new food pyramid
Now, I’m just going to toss out that pyramid above. It’s gone. A distant memory. Forgotten.
I’d like to introduce what I believe to be a newer and much improved food pyramid.
Now, of course there are a couple of similarities between my new food pyramid and the old model.
But pay close attention, because though they may look the same, they’re actually quite different.
First, you’ll notice the absence of most breads and grains. In fact, the most important difference between the old model and the new paradigm is…
The first and – in my humble opinion – most important level of the new pyramid is the base level… the foundation. Here, we start with good fats, oils, leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables.
1. Good Fats, approved oils, and cruciferous vegetables
The first pillar of the pyramid consists of good fats and approved oils. These are the most important foods in our diet and they’re the foods we should be eating most. In fact, these are the foods of which we can allow ourselves to consume an unlimited supply. What’s on this list?
- Extra virgin olive Oil, avocado oil, walnut oil, sesame oil, and coconut oil
- Romaine, red & green leaf lettuce, kohlrabi, mesclun (baby greens), spinach, endive, butter lettuce, parsley, fennel, seaweed/sea vegetables
- Broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, asparagus, and radish
2. Skip a meal
The second tier of the pyramid introduces the idea of intermittent fasting. Turns out, our ancestors would only be able to eat what they could hunt or find. Food wasn’t always available. So, our bodies adapted to be able to process and store energy based on intermittent periods of having and having not. Our bodies actually need to go without food from time to time. For this reason, we have to give our bodies time to process and digest. This really is one of the keys to great nutrition and that’s the reason it’s the second pillar of the pyramid.
3. Nuts, flour alternatives, lectin-free grains
Now, this is where we can satisfy our grain and bread cravings. And, it’s okay to indulge in this category daily, but make sure to limit consumption of these foods to small portions per meal. And, there are only certain kinds of nuts on the list – legumes, like peanuts and cashews should be completely avoided. Instead, stick to the following.
When it comes to flour alternatives, stick to coconut flour or almond flour. Avoid white flour and processed flours at all costs. Turns out, processed flour has been completely stripped of all nutritional value. In fact, I like to say that processed flour is nutritionally dead—even whole wheat flour.
Finally, there are two approved grains featured in tier 3 of the new pyramid –
- Sorghum – Sorghum is an awesome lectin-free, gluten-free flour alternative. And, it’s chock full of fiber. In fact, it’s known to fight lots of health issues and help your heart.1
- Millet – Millet happens to be full of major minerals like magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and zinc. Not only that, it’s lectin-free and the polyphenols in millet offer more antioxidants than most grains.2
The reasons these grains are approved is because they’re lectin free.
Sidebar: Lectins 101
Simply put, lectins are plant proteins. They’re found in all sorts of members of the vegetable kingdom, and they happen to be one of nature’s greatest defenses against any hungry animal (or human being).
Now, the trouble with lectins is that many are toxic. So, when you’ve got a lectin-intolerance, you don’t want to ingest them because the consequences can be uncomfortable
You see, plants suppose if you eat something that makes you sick, you’ll steer clear of it the next time you’re hungry. So, by forcing you to ingest harmful lectins, Nature’s protected itself.
Let’s take gluten, for example. That’s a lectin and kind of a buzzword in the nutrition world lately. And, let’s say you decide to do your gut a favor and cut out gluten. It may help, but there are many other kinds of non-gluten grains containing other types of lectins. And those lectins can cause painful or uncomfortable physical responses, including:
- Digestive issues
- Leaky gut
That’s why the pyramid suggests sticking to only sorghum and millet. And remember, do so in limited quantities.
4. Resistant starches
Now, resistant starches make the list because they feed friendly bacteria. Some of the best resistant starches are –
- Green bananas
Turns out, there are about 100 trillion bacteria living in each of our guts.3 And that’s surprising because it’s more than ten times the human cells found in our guts.
When the majority of those bacteria are good, we can feel it. That’s because good bacteria actually helps our bodies:
- Digest what we eat
- Deliver vitamins (like B12 and K2)
- Lose weight
- Eliminate disease-causing pathogens4
So, we want to make sure we feed that good bacteria. Another reason we want to include resistant starches in our diets is because they can break down fat and reduce fat storage.5
Again, with resistant starches, it’s okay to eat them every day, but limit the quantity with each meal.
Animals of Choice
5. Wild-caught seafood
Now, Fish is one of the healthiest and tastiest foods out there. Turns out, it’s full of really important nutrients like protein and vitamin D. But, it’s also a wonderful way to get omega-3 fatty acids, which have numerous benefits like helping with various inflammatory health issues.6
The thing is, we want to make sure the seafood that ends up on our plates is wild-caught. Among other things, farm-raised fish are often injected with antibiotics or even treated with pesticides. Whereas wild-caught seafood is caught by fisherman in its natural environment.
6. Pastured poultry & Omega-3 eggs
Now, let me be clear… pastured poultry can be a great source of protein. But, pastured is not the same thing as free range or organic. Often, free range chickens are never shown the light of day. And, they’re fed corn and soy. So, there’s only one type of poultry that’s okay here – pastured.
And Omega-3 eggs provide certain health benefits. For instance, research shows they lower cholesterol.7 So, it helps if we make sure Omega-3s are the eggs that end up on our tables. Also, these are foods we want to consume in limited portions each day.
Candy, but not really
7. In-season fruits
The next pillar of the pyramid is fruit. Now it’s okay to enjoy a modest portion of fruit with each meal, but the fruit must be – I repeat, must be – in season. Not only that, but in season fruits should be treated as candy. Turns out, eating fruit in season was a great thing for our ancestors, because it allowed them to fatten up for the winter months. But now, we can get fruit any day of the year. So, we have to be sure to consume it in moderation.
Now, there are a few fruits that are great year round, but they’ve got to be eaten while they’re still green.
In my new book, The Plant Paradox, I go into significant detail as to why in-season fruits should be viewed as a treat.
But, primarily, these fruits are okay because when unripe, they’ve not yet expanded their sugar content. And the good bacteria in our guts love to feast on these green fruits.
Now, Avocado is okay when ripe because it’s essentially sugar-free! Not to mention, it’s full of good fat and soluble fiber – key when trying to lose weight and absorb antioxidants.
Foods to consume in moderation
8. Southern European Cow’s Milk, Goat’s Milk, Sheep’s Milk and Buffalo Milk
Now, we want to stick to the listed types of milk because they’re the only milks that contain casein A-2 protein. We want to stay away from casein-A1.
Turns out, casein A-1 is converted to protein called beta-casomorphin which can prompt an immune attack on the pancreas of people who consume milk from these cows or cheeses made from it.8 This can cause some serious health concerns.
So, stick to Southern European cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and buffalo milk. Health foods stores are pretty good about carrying these. Also, consider these milks an indulgence and consume them only in moderate quantities.
9. Grass-fed, pasture-raised meat
Now, I strongly suggest only 4 ounces of daily protein should come from grass-fed or pasture-raised meat.
Why grass-fed and pasture-raised? Well, for starters they have more omega-3 and fewer omega-6 oils than animals fed grains and soy. But, we should still be careful not to over-consume as they still contain Neu5Gc – a type of sialic acid found in most mammals that human bodies cannot process.
So, while the following meats are acceptable, please remember they should only be consumed in limited quantities.
- Wild game
- Pork (humanely raised)
The Tipsy Top of the Pyramid
10. Red wine, Champagne, Dark Spirits
Now, in order to really separate the new and improved food pyramid from the dated food pyramid we all grew up with, I knew I had to include some spirits. Here’s the thing… red wine in moderation can actually help our health. Now, what does moderation mean here? Well, we should limit consumption to 1 or 2 times per week.
But, research and certain studies have shown that the polyphenols in red wine might be connected to reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases and heart health issues.9
Foods to avoid completely
Finally, there are a few foods that simply aren’t a part of the pyramid. These foods can contribute the most to health issues like obesity, fatigue, stiff joints, and unhealthy skin. It’s best to simply forget these foods even exist –
Sugars and sweeteners
- Maple syrup
Forbidden fruits and vegetables
- Soy sauce
- Non-Southern European cow milk products
- Greek yogurt
- Ice cream
- Cottage cheese
Seeds and Legumes
- Pumpkin seeds
- Chia seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Grapeseed oil
- Corn oil
- Peanut oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Sunflower oil
- Canola oil
- Whole grains
In conclusion, this pyramid should be the new paradigm for healthy living. Wipe those grade school memories of the basic food groups from your mind. For a print-friendly version of Dr. G’s pyramid, go HERE. Print it out, post it on the fridge or take it when grocery shopping.
For more information on The Plant Paradox, visit the Gundry MD facebook. And feel free to let us know how the new food pyramid is working out for you by commenting on the Facebook page or on this blog post in the comments below.
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2 Sreeramulu D e. Antioxidant activity of commonly consumed cereals, millets, pulses and legumes in India. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2009. Accessed April 25, 2017.
3 Zhang Y, Li S, Gan R, Zhou T, Xu D, Li H. Impacts of Gut Bacteria on Human Health and Diseases. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2015;16(4):7493-7519. doi:10.3390/ijms16047493.
4 Probiotics: In Depth. NCCIH. 2016. Accessed April 25, 2017.
5 Birt D, Boylston T, Hendrich S et al. Resistant Starch: Promise for Improving Human Health. Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal. 2013;4(6):587-601. doi:10.3945/an.113.004325.
6 Wall R, Ross R, Fitzgerald G, Stanton C. Fatty acids from fish: the anti-inflammatory potential of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Nutrition Reviews. 2010;68(5):280-289. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00287.x.
7 Oh SY e. Eggs enriched in omega-3 fatty acids and alterations in lipid concentrations in plasma and lipoproteins and in blood pressure. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 1991. Accessed April 25, 2017.
8 12. Pal S, Woodford K, Kukuljan S, Ho S. Milk Intolerance, Beta-Casein and Lactose. Nutrients. 2015;7(9):7285-7297. doi:10.3390/nu7095339.
9 Mohamed Saleem T, Darbar Basha S. Red wine: A drink to your heart. Journal of Cardiovascular Disease Research. 2010;1(4):171-176. doi:10.4103/0975-3583.74259.