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The image shared by Spotify podcaster Joe Rogan is not a food pyramid, which was a government guide on healthy eating.
The image shows data from a food healthfulness system that ranked Lucky Charms cereal as healthier than ground beef. The system was developed with partial funding from a federal agency.
But the image was created by private researchers to illustrate why they believe the system, developed at Tufts University, should not be used by consumers or for food policy.
Podcast host Joe Rogan shared an Instagram image suggesting that the federal government declared a sugary cereal healthier than meat.
The headline stated:
"New government-funded 'food pyramid' says Lucky Charms are healthier than steak."
Rogan, host of Spotify’s most popular podcast, aired his disapproval in the caption: "Thanks to the large collection of legitimate nutrition experts with independent shows distributing information based on solid research, we know this is bull----."
The image is not a food pyramid, which was a U.S. Agriculture Department guide on how much to eat each day from five major food groups, but has since been replaced. And the image was not created to promote Lucky Charms over steak.
Rather, private researchers created the image to caution that a food healthfulness system that ranked Lucky Charms over ground beef should not be used. The system was created with some government funding.
The first panel showed bits of marshmallow-heavy Lucky Charms. The second panel ranked two dozen foods using numerical scores.
Lucky Charms landed in the middle and was labeled "to be moderated." Steak wasn’t listed, but ground beef appeared at the bottom, labeled "to be minimized."
Watermelon and kale topped the chart. But Frosted Mini Wheats cereal ranked third and it, along with Honey Nut Cheerios cereal, were labeled "to be encouraged."
The Good Ranchers blog post links to a February research paper from several nutritionists.
Tufts’ "nutrient profiling system" ranks foods on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 the most healthful. The system considers a food’s healthful and harmful effects, identifying things such as nutrients, ingredients and processing characteristics.
With this system, a sugary, processed cereal such as Lucky Charms scored higher than ground beef.
The researchers Good Ranchers cited criticized Tufts’ Food Compass system.
The research paper didn’t specify why the cereal ranked higher. But it said Food Compass’ method exaggerates the risks associated with animal-source foods and underestimates the risks of "ultraprocessed foods."
"While a conceptually impressive effort, we propose that the chosen algorithm is not well justified and produces results that fail to discriminate for common shortfall nutrients, exaggerate the risks associated with animal-source food and underestimate the risks associated with ultra-processed foods," the paper said. "We caution against the use of Food Compass in its current form to inform consumer choices, policies, programs, industry reformulations, and investment decisions."
One of the paper’s authors, global nutrition scientist Ty Beal, told PolitiFact the chart "was made by us to show flaws in the system, using values from" Food Compass.
Beal wrote on Twitter: "I have seen a lot of attacking of Tufts University and the researchers involved. I am confident they all care deeply about improving people’s health and nutrition. I just think there are some blind spots and the system has flaws."
The Tufts researchers responded to criticism on the Food Compass webpage:
"Food Compass works very well, on average, across thousands of food and beverage products. But, when this number and diversity of products are scored, there are always some exceptions. … But, as objective scientists, we accept constructive criticism and are using this to further improve Food Compass."
Food Compass’ development was funded partly by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a unit of the federal National Institutes of Health. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute told PolitiFact that its funding for Food Compass was $8.7 million and that the National Institutes of Health has no plans for using Food Compass.
Food Compass "expands upon existing rating systems" and its developers "were prudent in noting the limitations of the tool," the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute said.
Dietary guidelines from the Agriculture Department include "meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages, and stay within calorie limits," and limiting foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat and sodium.
Rogan on Instagram shared an image that stated: "New government-funded 'food pyramid' says Lucky Charms are healthier than steak."
The image is not a food pyramid, which was a government guide on healthy eating.
The image showed data from a food healthfulness system that ranked Lucky Charms cereal as healthier than ground beef. Tufts University developed the system with partial funding from a federal agency.
The image was created by other nutrition researchers to illustrate why they believed the system should not be used by consumers or for food policy.
The image Rogan shared contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.
Good Ranchers, "New government-funded 'food pyramid' says Lucky Charms are healthier than steak," Jan. 12, 2023
Tufts University, "Comparison of Foods by Food Compass Score within Categories," accessed Jan. 20, 2023
SocArXiv, "Limitations of the Food Compass Nutrient Profiling System," Feb. 16, 2022
Snopes, "About That 'Lucky Charms Are Healthier than Steak' Food Pyramid," Jan. 16, 2023
Agriculture Department, "Learn how to eat healthy with MyPlate," accessed Jan. 23, 2023
Tufts Now, "Ranking Healthfulness of Foods from First to Worst," Oct. 14, 2021
Health.gov, "USDA Dietary Guidelines," accessed Jan. 23, 2023
Reuters, "Fact Check-Online claims about nutritional table lack context," Jan. 20, 2023
Twitter, thread of Ty Beal tweets, Jan. 15, 2023
Twitter, Ty Beal tweet, Oct. 19, 2021
Email, global nutrition scientist Ty Beal, Jan. 20, 2023
Email, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute press office, Jan. 24, 2023
Food Fix, "Wait, did we get a new food pyramid?", Jan. 20, 2023
Associated Press, "What’s MyPlate? Few Americans know or heed the US nutrition guide," Dec. 6, 2022
Tufts University, "Food Compass," accessed Jan. 23, 2023
Tufts University, "Food Compass FAQ," accessed Jan. 23, 2023
Agriculture Department, "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, Executive Summary," accessed Jan. 24, 2023
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