The food pyramid

When it comes to health and nutrition, opinions vary widely regarding the types and amounts of foods people consume. Several decades ago, the United States government had a department that created the well-known food pyramid.

The original food pyramid was an outline of what to eat each day. It was not a rigid recipe but rather a general guide that would allow you to select a healthy and suitable diet.

It was designed as a simple method to classify food into six different sections, structured in that geometric form. In 1960, a first food guide recommended consuming specific proportions of food of the four groups.

Although it has undergone multiple changes over the years, the point has always been to help guide people in their food selection and consumption.

Evolution of The Food Pyramid

The USDA's original food pyramid from 1992.
The USDA’s original food pyramid from 1992. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In recent years, the government has been working on adjusting the pyramid to meet folks’ various needs. For example, in his twenties, a bodybuilder is undoubtedly going to have an entirely different set of nutritional needs than a post-menopausal woman with a sedentary job. Many other factors can also contribute to which of these best suits your needs.

Despite being widely recognized and used as an educational tool and nutritional recommendation, The original food guide pyramid failed to convey the right dietary approach to consumers. This was replaced on April 19, 2005, by the new version called MyPyramid.

MyPyramid was developed by The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, a dependency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

This updated version was intended to redefine some issues that include besides a healthy and balanced diet, composed of a great variety of foods, other concepts such as the regular practice of physical activity that is confined to a healthy lifestyle. But MyPyramid turned out to be inaccurate and confusing.

English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The New Food Pyramid: MyPlate

The new food pyramid:MyPlate

MyPlate replaced MyPyramid in June 2011. MyPlate was designed as part of a broader communication initiative based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to help consumers choose better foods. MyPlate was intended to remind Americans to eat healthily and did not expect to change consumer behavior alone.

The positive part of this guide is its own simplicity, both in food groups and in portions. The distribution of healthy fats in the daily diet is not very clear.

As far as we know, fats are an essential part of nutrition in general. Unsaturated fats help in weight loss, reduce the risk of heart disease and can control blood sugar levels.

Foods like  avocado, olive oil, walnuts and sea products  provide these essential fats. We must not forget that these fats also help in brain function.

My Plate is divided into sections of approximately 30% vegetables, 20 % fruit, 30 % cereal and 20 % protein, accompanied by a smaller circle depicting dairy. Fruits and vegetables make up half of the dish, and the other half is divided into grains and proteins.

Additional recommendations complement MyPlate:

  • Control portions while enjoying food.
  • Let half the plate be fruits and vegetables.
  • Change to skim milk or low fat 1%.
  • At least half of your cereals are whole grains.
  • Vary your choices of protein-rich foods.
  • Compare the products with sodium and choose the one with the least amount.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

The Healthy Eating Plate

Healthy Eating Plate

Copyright © 2011, Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Plate, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health,, and Harvard Health Publications,

Nutrition experts from the Harvard School of Public Health and editors from Harvard Health Publications designed The Healthy Eating Plate to correct deficiencies in USDA’s MyPlate.

This new nutrition guide offers in a detailed way and a much simpler format the necessary information about the different food groups so that people can opt for healthier eating options.

No calories to count. The healthiest way to eat right is to choose what you eat and make an adequate balance between food portions.

Among the main recommendations of this new food guide is that half of our plate should contain raw or cooked vegetables, not forgetting the fruits except for Potatoes and French fries.

One-quarter of your plate should contain whole grains, avoiding the refined types. Whole grains are more nutritious, satiating and have a much lower insulin response.

Drink water, coffee or tea, avoid sugary drinks and limit dairy products such as milk to only one to two servings a day, limit juices to a single glass daily. Ialso includes multivitamin and calcium supplements. As well as moderate amounts of alcohol.

Fish, lean meats and legumes, as well as nuts, such as walnuts, are a good source of protein. In vegetarian diets, soy derivatives, such as tofu or tempeh, provide quality protein. Processed meats should be avoided, and red meats limited.

Staying active: the red running figure on The Healthy Eating Plate’s placemat points out the importance of staying active and its effect on weight management.

The Flaws In The Food Pyramid

One of the important things to recognize is that food is not a “one size fits all” deal. The fact is that everyone has their own specific nutritional needs. These are impacted by many different factors, making it virtually impossible for any agency to fully construct a guideline for all of the people who want to be healthy.

For instance, some people have allergies that make it impossible for them to consume particular foods or food groups. Grains, in particular, are very difficult for some to digest.

In addition to gluten intolerance, a person can have allergies related to corn, wheat and a host of other grains. For people who cannot eat any grains without suffering from digestive disorders, the food pyramid definitely needs some work.

Another criticism of this pyramid is that fish should have higher priority than dairy products due to its high omega-3 content.

How To Design Your Own Food Pyramid

designing your food pyramid

Today’s requirements for losing weight are more diverse than in the past — making the style of dieting particularly important. The style is what accounts for various results and encourages closer scrutiny of food management.

Anyone who has tried to lose weight would agree. Depending on their age, gender, and physical activity, each individual can consult the recommendations that best suit their lifestyle and quantify the daily calories they need.

The produce section of your local grocery and specialty stores should be at the top of your shopping list. Nutritionists and others who help guide people with their eating habits all agree that vegetables are vital to a healthy body. Over time, the food pyramid has grown to reflect how vital these foods are to good health.

Vegetables come in many different forms, and you should strive to consume a wide range of them to optimize your health. Although food pyramid experts will not always tell you this, it is something that you must grasp and internalize into your eating choices.

Just because you like a few vegetables does not mean that they should be the mainstay of this part of your diet. If you restrict yourself like that, you are going to miss out on essential vitamins and minerals.

One easy rule of thumb is paying attention to the colors of the foods you pick out from the produce department. Glance around any produce section, and you are sure to notice that most of the offerings are green.

From asparagus to zucchini, these green vegetables provide life-boosting fiber, vitamins and more. Make sure that you include leafy greens in your diet at least five days each week.

Preferably, you would consume them for lunch and dinner each day. The leafy greens provide unique contributions to the nutritional profile of your meals.

Of course, we were talking about how you need to eat lots of different colors. So, even if you do include all of these green veggies, including your nutrition-packed leafy greens, you still need more.

Once you have established your salads’ base, you can start looking at the additional foods that you need to add for a well-rounded, healthy diet. You see, your menu must include all of the different colors you can find.

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When plants are growing, the various colors reflect various vitamins and minerals that are in the food. Your body seriously needs them all to grow new cells and maintain your general health.

However, that doesn’t mean that you should grab a big bunch of tomatoes to go with your salad and stop there. Tomatoes and other red produce items are very important, though.

You will notice that several options in the produce department are red. Most of the items in the produce department that aren’t green fall within the red, yellow and orange color spectrum.

This means that you should be eating a lot of these foods. Include at least one or two servings each day from this color group. Because there are limited foods found in the grocery store that are blue, purple or white, they don’t have to be eaten every day. However, to maintain your health, you need to include one of them every other day.

You should also address your protein needs. In addition to lean cuts of beef, chicken and lamb are excellent sources of high-quality protein for your body. Eating fatty fish, like salmon and sardines, can provide your body with healthy fats as well.

It is crucial when looking at your foods’ fat content that you recognize fat is a necessary macronutrient. Though some folks debate about the amounts and types you need, virtually everyone agrees that a well-baked filet of trout is an excellent part of a healthy meal.

As mentioned earlier, your body also needs fruits in order to be healthy. The pyramid will help guide you in selecting the appropriate amounts. As with the vegetables that you eat, vary the colors to maximize your meals’ nutritional profile.

Eggs and dairy products are listed on the pyramid and with good reason. These provide protein, fats and other necessary nutrients. If you opt for yogurt in the morning, you will get a high dose of probiotics that will improve your digestive health.

Eggs are an excellent source of essential amino acids and the perfect way for folks on a budget to ensure that they have enough protein for the day.

No matter what type of diet guidelines you are following, it is vital that you drink plenty of water each day. Though some people will say you should drink eight cups per day, that is only a general guideline. Your level of activity, local climate, and personal needs can all impact the amount that is right for you.

Instead of wasting your time trying to count the glasses and potentially getting frustrated in the process, just take a look at your pee. Yes, your pee. When you consume the appropriate amount of water for your body, your urine will be a pale yellow.

If it is lighter than this, you are drinking too much water and are actually putting your body at risk for trouble. On the other hand, if you are not adequately hydrated, your urine will turn dark yellow or possibly even orange.

Both of these are very dangerous and indicate that you need to step up your consumption of water, herbal teas, and other hydrating drinks, such as fresh juice.

Remember that the food pyramid is a guideline for nutrition. Learn how to pay attention to your own body and what you need. The more you tune in to yourself, the better off you will be!

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