USDA diet advice through the years

Illustrating Diet Advice is Hard. Here’s how the USDA Has Tried To Do It.

Maria Godoy for NPR’s The Salt, on the 1992 Food Pyramid:

Carbs were the base of this pyramid, sending the message to eat all you want. And Americans did, gobbling up refined grains and processed snacks like SnackWell cookies — that staple of the low-fat craze — in their quest to avoid the dreaded dietary fat.

We know now that “carbohydrates worsen glucose and insulin — they have negative effects on blood cholesterol levels,” as Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, told us back in 2014. In other words, he told us, replacing saturated fats with refined carbs “has not been useful advice.”

Note that the recommendation of milk and dairy (and separately, butter!) is included in the USDA’s 1943 “The Basic 7” food guide, and in every food guide since. With allergies to milk and dairy, what’s the best way to replace those recommended nutrients? Is fortified soy milk (or other ‘milks’) adequate?

A new food paradigm

Just over two years ago our son was born, and with all of the uncertainty of parenthood came an additional challenge – food allergies. At the introduction of solid foods to his diet at 6 months, things started off very well; however, after two trips to the ER, we went to see a child allergist to get more definitive tests to determine the possible allergies our son had. The result? Allergies to several of the top-8 allergens. Our ongoing food introductions to his diet have determined sensitivities to spinach and avocado, among others.

As food-conscious parents, we dove into the allergy issues head-first, reading up on as much information as we could find. The lack of good information and recipes available that were specific to our list of food allergens made things challenging. In addition, many of the common prepared foods included either at least one of the allergens we couldn’t have, or had the words, “may contain…”. As a result, much of the food we eat at home is prepared from base ingredients, and little of what we eat is packaged/prepared foods from the grocery store. Over time, we’ve also had to cull our pantry of all foods with allergens and of any foods that may have been contaminated with allergens (such as spices, etc).

Our philosophy on meals is to be as inclusive as possible – we eat what our son eats. We do the same for our guests if they have any food restrictions. Our journey into finding suitable recipes, developing meal plans, and dealing with allergies has been a difficult one and we’d like to share what we’ve found. Our food interests also encompass sustainability, accessibility, nutrition and cooking, and we plan to share what we find in those realms as well.