Food Guide Pyramid (2005)
Food Guide Pyramids (these two being examples of many which have been developed) are a widely recognized tool for nutrition education. They are an easily recognized graphic illustration of nutritional recommendations for the kinds and amounts of foods in various food groups to eat for a healthy daily diet.
MyPyramid visually depicts the nutrient-rich foods recommended for daily consumption, and offers a personalized approach to healthy eating and physical activity. Through access to the Food Pyramid web site and by entering age, gender, and level of physical activity, an estimate is given of what and how much you need to eat daily (in servings of whole grains; of fruits and vegetables; of low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese or yogurt; and of lean meat or beans).
It also stresses the importance of daily physical activity. A children’s version of MyPyramid is to be released as well.
The pyramid symbol has these components (the colored bands identify the food groups referred to below):
- Activity, represented by a person climbing steps – a reminder of the importance of daily physical
- Moderation, shown by the narrowing of each food group from bottom to top – the wider base represents foods to be selected more often (those with little or no solid fats or added sugars), and the narrower apex foods to be used infrequently (those containing more added sugars and solid fats). The more active you are, the more of these latter foods can be used in your diet.
- Personalization, shown by the person on the steps, the slogan, and the web site link (URL) to find the kinds and amounts of food to eat daily.
- Proportionality, shown by the differing widths of the food group bands. The widths suggest how much food to choose from each group as a general guide, not the exact proportions – these can be found on the web site, personalized for you.
- Variety, symbolized by the 6 color bands representing the 5 food groups of the pyramid plus oils. These are the foods from all groups needed daily for good health.
- Gradual improvement, encouraged by the slogan, and suggesting that small steps taken daily will improve the individual’s diet and lifestyle.
MyPyramid is based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005, which describes a healthy diet as one that
- emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products
- includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts
- is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars
MyPyramid’s colored bands identify the food groups containing the recommended foods:
This food group includes any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain. Some examples of grain products are bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits. Grains fall into 2 subgroups, whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel – the bran, germ, and endosperm.
Whole (rather than refined) grains and grain products are better for you as they contain more fiber and more micro nutrients like folic acid, magnesium, and vitamins. Refined grains have been milled, thereby removing the bran and germ. This improves shelf life and gives a finer texture, but also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Consequently, refined grains may be ‘enriched’ by adding back iron and certain B vitamins. Eat at least 3 ounces of whole grain foods per day.
Grains tip: make half your grains whole.
This food group comprises any vegetable or 100% vegetable juice. Vegetables may be raw or cooked, fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated; and may be whole, sliced, diced, or mashed.
Vegetables are organized into 5 subgroups based on their nutrient content – from highest to lowest – dark green vegetables (eg broccoli), orange vegetables (eg butternut squash), dry beans and peas (black beans), starchy vegetables (eg corn), and other vegetables (eg onions).
Vegetables tip: vary your veggies.
This group includes any fruit or 100% fruit juice. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, sliced, or pureed.
Fruits tip: Focus on fruit and go easy on juices.
Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, such as vegetable oils used in cooking. Oils are found in many different plants and in fish. Some common oils: canola, corn, cottonseed, olive, safflower, soybean, sunflower. Some oils are used mainly as flavorings (like walnut and sesame oil). Certain foods are naturally high in oils: nuts, olives, some fish, avocados. Foods that are mainly oil include mayonnaise, certain salad dressings, and soft margarine with no trans fats (check the Nutrition Facts label of products as this requirement is introduced).
These oil sources are preferable to animal fats, because most oils are high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats which are helpful for good health, and low in saturated fats which are not (solid fats, trans fats, and saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fats explained). Also, oils from plant sources (vegetable and nut oils) do not contain any cholesterol, another plus for your health; in fact, no plant-sourced foods contain cholesterol.
– make fish, nuts and vegetable oils your main source of fats.
– limit solid fat sources of butter, stick margarine, shortening and lard.
This group includes milk (all fluid milk products and many foods made from milk that retain their calcium content), yogurt, and cheese. It does not include foods made from milk that have little or no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter.
Most milk group choices should be fat-free or low-fat.
Milk tip: Get calcium rich, low-fat/fat-free foods; if milk is ruled out, use lactose-free or other calcium sources
Meat and Beans group
This group includes meat, poultry, fish, dry beans and peas, eggs, and nuts, and foods made from them as well as from seeds (dry beans and peas are part of the vegetable group as well). Most meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat. Fish, nuts, and seeds contain healthy oils, so choose these foods often instead of meat or poultry.
– go lean with protein (choose low-fat/lean meat and poultry, baked, broiled or grilled).
– vary with more fish, beans, peas, nuts, seeds.
Physical activity involves movement of the body that uses energy. Walking, gardening, briskly pushing a baby stroller, climbing the stairs, playing soccer, or dancing are all good examples of being active. For health benefits, physical activity should increase your heart rate, and may be moderate (eg walking briskly) or vigorous and total up to at least 30 minutes a day.
Physical Activity tip: Find your balance between food and physical activity
MyPyramid suggests a daily diet based on the average needs for your age, gender and physical activity.
This is an example for a male aged 35 doing less than 30 minutes physical activity daily, and based on a 2400 calorie pattern which depends on metabolism and body weight.
- Grains 8 ounces or 226 grams daily – try for at least 4 whole grains each day
- Vegetables 3 cups each day – try for this much every week:
- Dark Green Vegetables = 3 cups weekly
- Orange Vegetables = 2 cups weekly
- Dry Beans and Peas = 3 cups weekly
- Starchy Vegetables = 6 cups weekly
- Other Vegetables = 7 cups weekly
- Fruits 2 cups a day
- Milk 3 cups a day
- Meat and beans 6.5 ounces or 184 grams a day
- Oils and Discretionary Calories – aim for 7 teaspoonfuls of oils a day
- Limit your extras (extra fats and sugars) to 360 calories a day
Check here for healthy recipes and meal suggestions.
Genes and dietary needs – authorities agree that these have changed negligibly in over 10,000 years. Prior to the start of the agricultural revolution at about that time, the human diet was mostly game meats, fish, shellfish, small mammals, tubers and sprouted vegetables, fruits, and nuts.
Very little grain (wild wheat and barley) was consumed, and then only when other foods were in short supply, and no dairy products or concentrated/refined sugars. Yet the pyramid and dietary guidelines make no mention of genetic variation in the human population with respect to dietary needs.
Grain allergy – grain and milk make up the largest sections of MyPyramid, 80% of which is carbohydrates and milk products. The most prominent grain is wheat, which is the number two allergen in the United States.
In excess, whole wheat blocks the absorption of essential minerals, and there is strong evidence that intolerance of gluten (which holds grains together) can lead to diabetes, osteoporosis, thyroid malfunction, and autoimmune disease. Also, the rate at which carbohydrates are metabolized into sugar in the bloodstream (the glycemic load) places whole grain carbs only slightly behind refined carbs, and much worse than fruit and vegetable carbs.
Added dietary sugar – MyPyramid makes no mention of added sugars other than a blanket suggestion to “choose your carbohydrates wisely”, yet studies have shown that people who get more than 18% of their calories from added sugars have a diet that is less nutritious than those with a lower intake of added sugar. Western dietary patterns place many people in the “over 18%” group, so the MyPyramid recommendation is hardly adequate.
Milk allergy – the number of dairy servings has been increased to three daily in MyPyramid, yet two-thirds of the human population is lactose intolerant (the sugar in milk and dairy products) and many others are allergic to casein (milk protein). Milk is the number one allergen in the United States.
It has been found that milk is not essential for healthy bone growth in young children if calcium is obtained from other sources and there is adequate exercise. High consumption of cows’ milk is accompanied by high rates of the “calcification” form of heart disease and of osteoporosis in the hip areas. Countries consuming virtually no cows’ milk products, such as Japan, have lower levels of osteoporosis than the US, and the lowest rates of heart disease and cancer in the world.
Significant omissions in MyPyramid and the Dietary Guidelines.
- They do not state that people should avoid trans fats, yet there is no safe level of trans fats.
- There is little mention of olive oil and fish, two of the healthiest menu options recognized as heart-healthy.
- Protein recommendation is scarce; only about 15% of the recommended diet comes from protein, although bodily tissue and organ systems require complete amino acids for their formation and maintenance. The protein category is called “Meat and Beans”, but beans are mostly carbohydrates and do not contain complete proteins, nor are poultry, fish, and eggs specifically mentioned.
- No carbohydrate is essential for human nutrition, yet almost 60% of the USDA’s recommendations are carbohydrates (grains, fruits, and vegetables).
MyPyramid: Conclusion from a number of authorities
MyPyramid and the Dietary Guidelines is welcomed as a replacement for the older, flawed, Food Guide Pyramid, but it conveys insufficient information to make informed choices about diet and long-term health, and continues to recommend foods that either are not essential to good health or may even be detrimental in the quantities suggested.
The Original Food Guide Pyramid
The Food Guide Pyramid was introduced by the USDA in 1992. As food pyramids are designed to do, it translates nutritional recommendations (according to conventional wisdom at that time) into the kinds and amounts of food to eat each day.
The Food Guide Pyramid emphasizes foods from the five major food groups shown in the three lower sections of the Pyramid. Each of these food groups provides some, but not all, of the nutrients you need. Foods in one group can’t replace those in another. No one food group is more important than another – for good health, you need them all.
Foods, Oils and Sweets
These are foods such as salad dressings and oils, cream, butter, margarine, sugars, soft drinks, candies, and sweet desserts. These foods provide calories and little else nutritionally, and should be used sparingly by most people.
Milk, Yogurt and Cheese
Protein foods from animals: milk, yogurt, and cheese.
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Beans, Eggs, and Nuts
Foods from meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts. These foods are important for protein, calcium, iron, and zinc.
Vegetables and Fruits
These groups include foods that come from plants – vegetables and fruits. Most people need to eat more of these foods for the vitamins, minerals, and fiber they supply.
Breads, cereals, rice, and pasta
These are all foods from grains. You need the most servings of these foods each day.
Original Food Guide Pyramid: Conclusion from a number of authorities
While the Food Guide Pyramid was a well-recognized symbol as a nutritional guide, as long ago as 2001 it was admitted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and The National Institutes of Health (NIH) that the Food Guide Pyramid was a total failure.
80% of Americans recognized the symbol, but people had become sicker and heavier since it was updated in 1992. Its recommendations were based on uncertain scientific evidence, and were barely improved over the years to reflect major improvements in our understanding of diet and health.
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- Willet, W. C., & Stampfer, M. J. (2003). Rebuilding the food pyramid. Scientific American, 288(1), 64-71. link
- Nestle, M. (1993). Food lobbies, the food pyramid, and US nutrition policy. International Journal of Health Services, 23(3), 483-496. link
- Gao, X., Wilde, P. E., Lichtenstein, A. H., & Tucker, K. L. (2006). The 2005 USDA Food Guide Pyramid is associated with more adequate nutrient intakes within energy constraints than the 1992 Pyramid. The Journal of nutrition, 136(5), 1341-1346. link