The Four Food Groups, Old and New

People are increasingly concerned about what to eat in order to be healthy and to
obtain or maintain a proper weight. This has resulted in a trend toward less meat and more
plant-foods in the diets of many Americans. However, information on diet programs
promulgated by scientists, commercial sources, and governmental agents often offer
conflicting conclusions. Here are some highlights of recent developments on diet advice -
in particular, the famous Four Food Groups .

Since 1916, the United States Department of Agriculture has periodically issued food
guides. After several versions, in 1956 it recommended its Basic Four Food Groups in its
Leaflet, Food For Fitness - A Daily Food Guide. The government's Basic Four involved

(1) meats, poultry, fish, dry beans and peas, eggs, and nuts;

(2) dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt;

(3) grains; and

(4) fruits and vegetables.

Until 1992 this combination of foods was a mainstay of nutrition education in the
United States and was considered almost the definitive word on nutrition by the vast
majority of Americans.

In 1992, the U. S. Department of Agriculture issued a Food Guide Pyramid, which
pictures fruits, vegetables, and grains at its broad base, emphasizing the nutritional
importance of these foods. However, the pyramid pictures meat and dairy products at the
upper, smaller portion of the pyramid, just below oils, sweets, and fats, and promotes
daily consumption of two to three servings from the meat and dairy groups.

In a major challenge to these Government recommendations, on April 8, 1992, the
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a health/nutrition advocacy group,
primarily health professionals, unveiled its recommended New Four Food Groups. The PCRM
argues, using recent scientific studies, that the emphasis of the Basic Four Food Groups
and the Food Guide Pyramid on animal products, with their high amounts of fat,
cholesterol, and protein, is a significant factor in degenerative diseases, such as heart
disease, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoporosis. Hence, the PCRM is actively
promoting the New Four Food Groups and striving to make it the basis for school breakfasts
and lunches, as well as diets for the general public.

The New Four Food Groups are:

(1) The whole grain group - includes bread, pasta, breakfast cereal, rice
dishes, corn, and other grains. They provide fiber, complex carbohydrates, important
vitamins, and an adequate amount of protein (neither too much nor too little). Especially
valuable are unprocessed whole-grain products, as compared to grains which have been
ground up into flour or stripped of their bran.

(2) The vegetable group - includes broccoli, carrots, lettuce, cabbage,
potatoes, and cauliflower. Vegetables are particularly rich in vitamins and minerals. Beta
carotene, found primarily in yellow and green vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, and
spinach, has been found to reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases. Green leafy
vegetables are also very good sources of fiber, complex carbohydrates, and calcium.

(3) The fruit group - includes apples, bananas, peaches, pears, and oranges, as
well as exotic fruits, such as kiwis and carambola. Because they are very rich in complex
carbohydrates, vitamins, and fiber, fruits provide valuable resistance to heart disease,
cancer, and other degenerative diseases.

(4) The legume group - includes foods that come in a pod, such as beans, peas,
lentils, soy, tofu, and tempeh. These foods are excellent sources of fiber, complex
carbohydrates, protein, and minerals.

In addition to providing all the necessary nutrients for good health, the New Four Food
Groups contain no cholesterol and, with a few exceptions such as nuts and avocados, they
are very low in fat. The low fat-content of these foods make them especially valuable in
sensible long-term weigh control programs.

The New Four Food Groups was presented by Neal Barnard, M. D. (director of PCRM, and
author of The Power of Your Plate and Food for Life - How the New Four Food Groups Can
Save Your Life ), at a press conference. Dr. Barnard asserted that the new proposal could
have a major impact on diet-related diseases in the U. S., where heart attacks strike
4,000 people a day, and where a third of the U. S. population may get cancer. He added
that the old "Basic Four", which involves meat and other animal products at the
center of the American diet, is a recipe for serious health problems. He noted the shift
in breast cancer rates from one in eleven American women (getting the disease at some
point during their lives) when he was a medical student to one in eight in 1992.

Dr. Barnard, a vegetarian, was joined at the press conference by three prominent non
-vegetarian doctors: Dennis Burkitt, M. D., whose pioneering research connected dietary
fiber to the prevention of disease; T. Colin Campbell, M. D., head of the China Health
Study (a major ground breaking study that the New York Times called "the grand prix
of epidemiology"), which connected degenerative diseases to meat-based diets; Oliver
Alabaster, M. D., Director of the Institute for Disease Prevention at George Washington
University, and author of The Power of Prevention. . While feeling that it is acceptable
to eat small amounts of animal products, the three doctors agreed that basing the major
part of the diet on the New Four Food Groups would have major benefits on human health.

Dr. Burkitt urged reporters to write articles that would enable the public to translate
the scientific nutritional evidence into everyday food choices. The press complied, and
major stories appeared in many American newspapers. The PCRM has received hundreds of
calls from radio and television stations across the U. S. and Canada for on-air
interviews. The response demonstrated the public's interest in new nutritional advice;
many people requested more information from the PCRM, which responded with its scientific
rationale statement, posters, recipes, and other printed material.

On January 31, 1995, the PCRM submitted its "Recommended Revisions for Dietary
Guidelines for Americans" to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee of the
Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, as part of the
Federal Government's current process of consideration of possible revisions to current
dietary guidelines. The PCRM analysis stated that the Government's current review process
is an excellent time to take advantage of recent research findings "that indicate the
enormous potential of dietary factors to reduce the risk of serious illness and premature
mortality." They emphasized the value of a shift from current recommendations which
include animal products as a substantial part of the diet to recommendations based on
plant-centered nutrition. To indicate the scope of the support for its proposals, the PCRM
recommendations were signed by 24 prestigious physicians, including: Neal Barnard, M. D.,
William Castelli, M. D., Director of the Framingham Heart Study, the largest
epidemiological study on the causes of heart disease, Henry Heimlich, M. D., President of
the Heimlich Institute, John McDougall, M. D., author of several well-known books on
connections between nutrition and health, Dean Ornish, M. D., director of a program that
showed that heart disease can be reversed without surgery or drugs, Frank Oski, M. D.,
Director, Department of Pediatrics, John Hopkins University, William C. Roberts, M. D.,
Editor, American Journal of Cardiology, and Benjamin Spock, M. D., author of Baby and
Child Care .

The Government's response to the PCRM's recommendations could mark a turning point in
U. S. nutrition policy and could be a major factor in future U. S. fiscal health. Issues
related to health care costs have become dominant in the economics and politics of our
time. A shift by Americans to diets based on the New Four Food Groups could have major
effects on the economic future of our nation and our communities.

Here are some suggestions for shifting to a healthier lifestyle based on a
plant-centered diet:

1. You know yourself best. Decide on whether you want to make an immediate shift in
your diet, or make a gradual transition. You might want to try a three-week experimental
change and see how you feel and how your weight has changed as a result of it, and then
adjust your diet accordingly.

2. Become familiar with local health food stores, food co-ops, ethnic food stores, and
the produce section of your supermarket. Try new foods to add variety to your diet.

3. Know that it is not necessary to have a Ph. D. in nutrition in order to have a
healthy diet. A well-balanced plant-based diet, perhaps occasionally supplemented with
animal products, will give you all the nutrients that you need. However, you might want to
improve your knowledge of nutrition (books and magazines on healthier living are indicated
in the appendix).

4. Approach each meal with positive expectations. Enjoy your food. Don't consider
yourself an ascetic. Remember that your new diet is best for your life and our threatened

5. If possible, plan menus in advance. Take the time to build attractive meals using
healthy foods that you enjoy. Experiment with the many recipes in this and other books.

6. Become familiar with restaurants in your area. Find out which ones have salad bars
and other healthy options. Ask if they will prepare dishes to meet your requests.

7. Associate with other health and diet-conscious people for mutual support and
encouragement. This may be especially valuable for children, so that they don't feel
isolated while all their friend devour huge amounts of high-fat fast foods.

For more information about the New Four Food Groups, write to the Physicians Committee
for Responsible Medicine, P. O. Box 6322, Washington, D, C. 20015, or call them at (202)

The Schwartz Collection on Judaism, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights



this website copyright scars publications and design. All rights reserved. No material may be reprinted without express permission from the author.

this page was downloaded to your computer