Belgium Flips the Food Pyramid

What big muscles they must have!

By Ethan L. Johns
October 10, 2017

Image: Vlaams Instituut Gezond Leven

After the American USDA’s disastrous 2005 attempt to revamp and incorporate exercise into the original 1992 food pyramid (what did it even mean?!), in 2011 the organization decided to switch tacks, introducing the MyPlate guidelines, which dumped the pyramid in favor of a more visual, portion-themed infographic. Last month in Belgium, the Vlaams Instituut Gezond Leven (the Flemish Institute for Healthy Living) took a different approach to nutritional reform: it turned the pyramid on its head.

From 2005, the guidelines of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) for the Flemish community featured a pyramid similar to the American one from 1992, with the addition of water (including coffee, tea and sugar-free drinks) below the grains, and exercise reminders (30 minutes per day) below the water. Last month’s alterations don’t change much in terms of the content of the pyramid, but psychologically they attack from a different angle.

Instead of a pyramid that is built up, with sweets and fats acting as the capstone—the crowning achievement—the pyramid is inverted so that it forms a funnel. Water takes the top rung (because it’s the most important, seeing as the human body is more than half water). It then narrows slightly to encourage lots of dark green fruit and veggie consumption, before narrowing again to show fish, dairy and poultry. At the bottom, with a slow-your-butt-down-orange background, is butter and red meat. It’s almost like the food version of Botticelli’s illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy, with each layer becoming more sinful and delicious as the pyramid descends. How European.

Left off the pyramid entirely are the real not-so-good-for-you foods, including pizza (*sob*), booze (*slurred sob*), and even bacon (*extra-crispy sob*). Follow whichever guidelines you please, but please don’t take our bacon…

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns