People all over the U.S. have added egg yolks back into their omelettes since the USDA released its proposed dietary guidelines last month. They’ve finally given up on the crusade against cholesterol. These guidelines reflect what science has known for a while - dietary cholesterol consumption does not correlate with blood cholesterol levels.

The proposed guidelines suggest a diet full of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains is best. Only moderate to low amounts of meats, dairy, sweets, refined grains and alcohol should be consumed.

Since the 1960s Americans have operated under the assumption that dietary cholesterol and fat will kill us. In 1977, the government added to its own list of responsibilities and told us to limit our fat intake. This notion led to a nation obsessed with the consumption of a high carbohydrate diet.  A slew of processed carbohydrate “foods” soon followed. Massive amounts of sugar compensated for the flavor void left by the absence of fat. And high fructose corn syrup hit the mainstream.  

The 1992 food pyramid illustrated these principles with a giant loaf of highly processed bread at the base. Not only was this terrible advice, it ruined a generation of palates.

I’m a little angry about that. I grew up with a father who lost his three brothers to a genetic cholesterol disorder. My dad didn’t have the disorder, but his family history combined with the vilification of dietary fat and cholesterol turned him into a man with a mission. The obsession with cholesterol was a constant theme in our home. Still, he required triple bypass surgery and later died after suffering several strokes. My dad’s story isn’t unusual - there are similar stories in most American families.

To be clear, the proposed guidelines still warn us to limit our intake of saturated fat, but not as much as before. Saturated fat remains the ugly stepchild of the American diet. This in spite of the fact that many in the scientific community say that saturated fat is no more at fault for heart disease than cholesterol.

But, I am encouraged. Advocates of a real food diet have done Americans a great service by calling out the faults of the USDA guidelines and played no small part in these changes. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma is one of them. He sums up my vision of a healthy diet perfectly in In Defense of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto with the simple words, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

This simple motto forms the foundation of my own vision for a future food pyramid, and the USDA guidelines get us one step closer to my vision. You’ll notice that my food pyramid makes no mention of fats, carbohydrates, or proteins. It simply focuses on the consumption of food that requires little alteration to make it edible.

  • At the base are fruits and vegetables, forming the bulk of the foods consumed in a healthy diet.
  • Next we have foods that can be consumed close to their natural state– natural meats, eggs, dairy, whole grains, legumes and nuts.
  • Next we find oils that need minimal processing such as olive oil and coconut oil.
  • Finally, at the top – foods that should be limited or avoided completely - are processed foods such as breads, sweets, processed meats (hot dogs and cold cuts) and highly processed oils.  It’s easy to know what to avoid. If it bears little resemblance to the food product it’s derived from, then don’t eat much, or any, of it.

One might call this the Common Sense Food Pyramid, but fifty-plus years of bad dietary advice and habits have warped our idea of what common food sense is. It’s why a pyramid of any type is necessary to begin with. But the proposed USDA Dietary Guidelines give me hope that common sense can be achieved again.