A Nightmare Food Pyramid Journey

Dr. Greene takes on the food pyramid to see how well it actually works. The results are shockingly bad. What's the alternative?

A Nightmare Food Pyramid Journey

The Food Pyramid: Gone and NOT missed! On June 1, 2011 I logged on to MyPyramid.gov for kids and played their Blast Off Game “An interactive computer game where kids can reach Planet Power by fueling their rocket with food and physical activity.” I registered as Alan, an 11-year-old boy. The results were slightly less horrifying than when I did this in 2006 (and reported my findings). But just barely.

When you launch the game, you’re invited to select food items and physical activity for the day from a list that varies occasionally if you play several times. When you’re satisfied with your choices, press the Blast Off button and the game will analyze your diet to see whether it would give your body the optimal fuel to complete your journey.

My Breakfast

To start the day I chose chocolate sugar cereal. Because the nonfat milk it came with seemed rather bland, I added a cup of chocolate milk to go with it. At this point an alert popped up, but perhaps not the alert you’d expect after a junk food breakfast with a double dose of sugary chocolate:

“STAR PILOT! It’s clear you know your facts. You’ve chosen 2 low-fat/fat-free foods. Great job!”



I was still hungry, so I added a white bread English muffin to my white flour and sugar breakfast.

My Lunch

At school I selected a Sloppy Joe sandwich on a white bun and received a 3-star alert, but again it might not be what you’d expect:

“Well Done! You have enough Grains!”

food pyramin

My Sloppy Joe seemed like it was missing something, so I added French Fries (deep fried). My meal still didn’t seem complete, so I added a second order of French Fries (deep fried). I was feeling a little guilty at this, so wasn’t surprised when an alert popped up – but was surprised at what it said:

“Well done! You have enough Vegetables!”


My lunch was missing something sweet, though, so I grabbed a glass of apple juice. Lo and behold, another alert:

“STAR PILOT! You just grabbed a 100% Fruit Juice. Good job!”


Being called a STAR PILOT is nice, so I went back and added some apple juice to my breakfast and chose apple juice for my afternoon snack, along with a glass of milk. I did receive an alert that whole or cut-up fruit is even better than fruit juice, the best advice I’d gotten so far. For physical activity I did some household chores. I set the table, I emptied the dishwasher, I made my bed, I put away some of my stuff. It seemed like it took an hour, but never got my heart pumping.

My Dinner

It’s been a long day! I chose fried chicken for dinner. This time I got TWO alerts. One suggested that more of my grain choices should be whole grains. I hadn’t expected fried chicken to prompt a grain alert, but I’m glad it did. This alert was one of two improvements I’ve seen in the 2011 version (the other is a much broader selection of healthy foods that a child could select. Kudos for that.). I also got another 3-star alert, this one expected given my Sloppy Joe and fried chicken:

“Well Done! You have enough Meats and Beans!”


Still, something seemed like it was missing from my dinner – from my whole day, really. And I knew just what it was: gravy! So I added an order of gravy for my fried chicken. That sounded so tasty that I chose a second order of gravy as well.



Ready for the Test

I was feeling stuffed, so it seemed like time to push the Blast Off button and have my diet analyzed. My food all tasted great, but I was a bit nervous about what they would suggest I change. How was my fuel? The big moment arrived. Mission Report Received! From Mission Control to Astronaut Alan:

  • Grains: Congratulations! You reached optimal levels. (Remember my “optimal” grains? Refined grain sugar cereal, white bread English muffin, white bun. Not a single whole grain.)
  • Fruits: Congratulations! You reached optimal levels. (Remember my “optimal” fruits? Apple juice. 4 servings.)
  • Milk: Congratulations! You reached optimal levels. (I didn’t know sugary cereal with chocolate milk was optimal!)
  • Meats and Beans: Congratulations! You reached optimal levels. (Sloppy Joe and fried chicken)
  • Vegetables: Congratulations! You reached optimal levels. (WHAT??? I don’t remember any vegetables. Oh. Right. Two orders of French fries, and I think there were some chunks in the Sloppy Joe mix.)
  • Activity: Congratulations! You reached optimal levels. (And I thought I had to run or dance or jump or do sports or play hard or get outside. I’m glad setting the table counts.)

“Based on your food choices the MyPyramid rocket ship landed on Planet Power. Everyone at Mission Control is very pleased with your fueling choices.”

My food choices made them happy. And to top it all off, I won a certificate! MyPyramid Mission Control Certificate of Commendation to Junior Astronaut Alan for piloting the MyPyramid rocket ship successfully to Planet Power by making healthy food and physical activity choices.

And that is why…

And that is the story of how I came to hate the food pyramid and why I am celebrating its demise. Viva la Plate!


Could this get any worse? See Part 2 of Alan’s Nightmare Food Pyramid Journey.

Alan’s Full Menu from his Nightmare Food Pyramid Journey





Published on: June 02, 2011
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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