Manic Monday: Food Groups

February 14, 2011

Manic Monday is a feature I hope to run every Monday – provided folks out there in the “mainstream” keep supplying the fodder. Chintzy graphics are part of the fun – I mean watch the music video.


An absolutely insane article went up on yahoo a few weeks ago, courtesy of My first instinct was to write a point by point rebuttal in which I actually cited sources (as opposed to what is done in the article, alluding to “research” and “studies”), but it honestly doesn’t deserve my time.

Instead, I will address a suggestion made in almost every article like this one, that a diet containing all “food groups” is somehow superior to the alternative. Admittedly, I will stoop low enough to mock a few silly quotes.

Carry on my wayward son.

The money quote at the end of the article: (bolding mine)

“Dieters feel so empowered once they lose weight on carbs. For the first time, they are able to lose weight by eating in a balanced manner, without cutting out entire food groups,” says Sari Greaves, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

I have a love-hate relationship with this quote. I love that our RN friend “Sari” suggests that dieters will feel extra “empowered” if they are able to lose weight on a high-carb diet, because it sounds like she’s implying that it is harder to lose weight that way. I love this because I agree with her; it is very hard to lose weight on a high-carb diet, but I would hardly call muscle-wasting, crippling cravings, and drowsiness “empowering.” Also, I love love love that she says that someone losing weight on a high-carb diet would be “the first time”.

I hate this quote because she lists not “cutting out entire food groups” as a benefit of a high-carb diet. It reminds me of an equally disgusting quote:

I discourage any diet that disallows entire food groups.

That gem is from Cornell Mclellan, President Obama’s trainer, who also happens to be vegan. Now I’m no expert in this specific field of nutrition, but I’m pretty sure meat is a “food group.” (Edit: It is not. They call it the “Proteins Group” and they have tips for vegetarians. Tips like eat soy. That’s a good idea.) Please go see evolvify for a total tear-down of the release this quote crawled out of.

Either way, here’s my complaint (and the reason I began writing this post, waaay up there): The quality of a diet should not be judged on its inclusion of arbitrary categories of edible goods. “Food Groups” are simply haphazard (and hazardous) government-defined classifications. For instance, there is both a “Vegetable Group” and a “Grains Group,” but corn is in the former, despite the fact everyone agrees it belongs in the latter. These are not scientific distinctions, and they are not divided into groups that represent dietary requirements.

Let your mind wander with me for a moment. You have a messy garage full of tons of tools, and you ask me to organize them for you. I split your garage-dwelling valuables into five “Tool Groups”: Wrenches, Screwdrivers, Saws, Hammers, and Pliers. So the groups aren’t perfect or all-encompassing, but they provide a workable framework for garage organization. You understand that I have done my job and pay me my due.

Fast forward a few years. Your best friend calls, she has car trouble on the side of the highway and wants your help. You throw some stuff from your garage into your pickup truck and hit the gas – only to screech to a stop at the foot of your driveway because someone is standing in the way! It’s me, and I’m back with a vengeance. I inform you that I can’t allow you to leave without taking at least one tool from each of the tool-box categories.

You politely plead your case, “My friend is stranded and scantily clad in a bad part of town, and it is very dark and cold. Please, sir…”

“NO!” I shout, spit flying from my frothing mouth. “I discourage any auto-repair work that dis-includes entire tool groups. Mechanics feel so empowered when they are able to fix cars in a balanced manner, without cutting out entire tool groups.”

You’re confused and angry, begging “Please move out of my way. My people have been fixing cars with these tools for the large majority of the last 200,000 years, all without your advice. I know I won’t need anything from the “Saws” tool group. Telling me to choose one tool from each group is insane. You created these categories to organize my tools, why would it just happen to be the case that doing a good job would require certain proportions of tools from each “tool group”?

I’m beginning to doubt myself now. “Well that’s how the government does it with food, right?

*And scene.*

The Bottom Line

Just because a bunch of “food” is so similar that it merits grouping it into a “food group” all by itself, doesn’t mean you should eat it. It’s okay to group things, it is not okay to infer value from the distinctions when that value was not used to create the distinctions. The food groups weren’t divided up to be “similar sources of the five things we have scientifically proven that the human body needs,” so it’s not fair to think of them that way. They were simply “things that we have been eating lately that seem like each other in some way.”

UPDATE: 2+Months later, the same articles are being written, and our community still thinks it’s stupid.

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