Belgium's New Food Pyramid Puts Bacon Beside Cookies and Cake

©. Flemish Institute for Healthy Living

The novel arrangement reflects the World Health Organization's 2015 statement that processed meat is a possible carcinogen.

Belgium has a new food guideline with an interesting twist. Tofu, legumes, oils, vegetables, and grains sit at the top of the inverted triangle -- as foods one should prioritize in their diet -- while bacon and salami are relegated to an outside circle that includes cake, cookies, French fries, alcohol, and soda. These external items should be eaten "as little as possible." Partway down the pyramid is chicken, eggs, dairy, and fish, with red meat and butter at the bottom.

Quartz reports that the new guideline was published at the end of September by the Flemish Institute of Health Life. The guideline is noteworthy because it reflects the official (and highly controversial) statement made by the World Health Organization in 2015 that processed meats are possible carcinogens to humans. TreeHugger reported on the WHO's announcement in 2015:

"The WHO has declared that processed meat causes cancer, particularly colon cancer. The organization now places bacon, sausage, and hotdogs in a category of known carcinogens, a list that also includes cigarettes, diesel fumes and asbestos."

Not surprisingly, the statement was met with outrage from meat producers in the United States, who managed to influence the new U.S. dietary guidelines sufficiently to remove the "eat less meat" advisory that we had all expected (and hoped) to see. Hence, Marion Nestle's statement upon their publication at the beginning of 2017: "If I were the meat industry, I would break out the champagne."

Belgium, refreshingly, does not seem fazed by powerful lobby groups. Loes Neven, a representative for the Institute, told a local newspaper:

"We want to make it clear that we don’t need these products. We don’t forbid them, but they should be rather an exception than [the] rule."

Various countries have experimented with different ways of communicating nutritional guidelines to their populations, with the U.S. adopting a dinner plate model, Brazil using images of fully plated meals, Japan using a curious 'spinning top food guide,' and Canada sticking with an uninspiring horizontal graph. It remains to be seen how effective Belgium's is, and whether people will be willing to swap salami for soybeans.