The ‘Four Basic Food Groups,’ an outdated concept drilled into the heads of generations of Americans and still widely accepted as the basic outline of a healthy diet, began as a 50s era attempt at nutrition education, and later evolved into a sop to agri-business.

In 1956, the United States Department of Agriculture published a leaflet called Food For Fitness - A Daily Food Guide. It contained, among other things, a division of the commonly eaten foods of the time into four groups, based on their general nutritive properties. These groups, as we all know, were:

(1) “The Meat Group”meats, poultry, fish, dry beans and peas, eggs, and nuts;
(2) “The Dairy Group” - milk, cheese, and yogurt;
(3) “The Grain Group” - bread, pasta, cereal,
(4) “Fruits and Vegetables”

Nothing was stated about the relative amounts of these foods necessary for an optimal diet, at least in part because not much was known. ‘Eat a food from each of the groups at every meal’ was a standard rule of thumb, and in the ‘four groups’ educators had a handy tool for edifying.

However, as the decades went by, the medical community, and then large segments of society, began to learn that things like lowering saturated fat intake and eating more fresh vegetables might be a good idea. So might eating newly available foods like soy. However, much of the mission of the USDA was and is to promote America’s agricultural produce. Here is an inherent conflict of interest - the same people whose job it is to promote what is currently grown and herded are telling us what to eat!

It took until 1992 for the four groups to be updated, and then it was in the half-assed way that led to the ridiculous Food Pyramid. Now there was an additional conflict of interest – heavy lobbying from agri-business. For instance, the final version of the pyramid included a pinnacle of “Fats, Oils, and Sweets,” as a direct sop to sugar producers, even though these items were in no danger of being lacking from the American diet. Among other non-accidental flaws, dairy substitutes with the same nutritional properties as dairy products, widely available by the early 90s, were suspiciously missing from the ‘Dairy’ section of the pyramid, and the ‘Grain’ section made no distinction between nutritious whole grains and processed products like Wonderbread.

Well, it seems there’s no hope for government to get this one right. So here are the New Four Food Groups as outlined by the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine:

1)The Whole Grain Group - 5 servings a day
2) The Legume (bean) and soy foods Group - 5 servings a day
3) The Vegetable Group - 3 servings a day
4) The Fruit Group - 3 servings a day