FOOD GUIDE PYRAMID
The Food Guide Pyramid, which was released by the USDA in 1992, was replaced on April 19, 2005, by MyPyramid.
The original Food Guide Pyramid, like MyPyramid, was a widely recognized nutrition education tool that translated nutritional recommendations into the kinds and amounts of food to eat each day.
The Food Pyramid, developed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), is an excellent tool to help you make healthy food choices. The food pyramid can help you choose from a variety of foods so you get the nutrients you need, and the suggested serving sizes can help you control the amount of calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar or sodium in your diet.
BREAD, GRAIN, CEREAL AND PASTA FORM THE BASE
At the base of the food pyramid, you’ll see the group that contains breads, grains, cereals and pastas. These foods provide complex carbohydrates, which are an important source of energy, especially for a low-fat meal plan. You can make many low-fat choices from foods in this group. You’ll need 6 to 11 servings of these foods in a day. One serving of this group can be:
- 1 slice of bread
- 1/2 cup of rice, cooked cereal or pasta
- 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal
- 1 flat tortilla
Try to eat whole-grain breads, cereal and pasta for most of your servings from this group. Whole-grain foods (which are made with whole wheat flour) are less processed and retain more valuable vitamins, minerals and fiber than foods made with white flour. When you purchase whole-grain foods, look for breads and pastas with “stone ground whole wheat flour” as the first ingredient, because some “wheat” breads may be white breads with only caramel coloring added.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients. Many are excellent sources of vitamin A, vitamin C, folate or potassium. They are low in fat and sodium and high in fiber. The Food Pyramid suggests 3 to 5 servings of vegetables each day. One serving of vegetables can be:
- 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
- 1/2 cup of other vegetables, cooked or raw
- 3/4 cup of vegetable juice
The Food Pyramid suggests 2 to 4 servings of fruit each day. One serving of fruit can be:
- One medium apple, orange or banana
- 1/2 cup of chopped, cooked or canned fruit
- 3/4 cup of fruit juice
Count only 100% fruit juice as a fruit, and limit juice consumption. Many commercial bottled juices come in containers that hold more than 2 servings “which can add lots of sugar and calories to your daily diet. Punches, ades and most fruit “drinks” have only a bit of juice and lots of sugar. Fruit sodas are sugary drinks, and they don’t count as fruit, either.
BEANS, EGGS, LEAN MEAT AND FISH
Meat, poultry and fish supply protein, iron and zinc. Non-meat foods such as dried peas and beans also provide many of these nutrients. The Food Pyramid suggests 2 to 3 servings of cooked meat, fish or poultry. Each serving should be between 2 and 3 ounces. The following foods count as one ounce of meat:
- One egg
- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
- 1/2 cup cooked dry beans
- 1/3 cup of nuts
Choose lean meat, fish and dry beans and peas often because these are the lowest in fat. Remove skin from poultry and trim away visible fat on meat. Avoid frying these foods. Moderation is the watchword when it comes to nuts because they are high in fat.
Products made with milk provide protein and vitamins and minerals, especially calcium. The Food Pyramid suggests 2 to 3 servings each day. If you are breastfeeding, pregnant, a teenager or a young adult age 24 or under, try to have 3 servings. Most other people should have 2 servings daily. Interestingly, cottage cheese is lower in calcium that most other cheeses – one cup counts as only 1/2 serving of milk. Go easy on high-fat cheese and ice cream. Choose non-fat milk and yogurt and cheeses made from skim milk because they are lowest in fat.
FATS AND SWEETS
A food pyramid’s tip is the smallest part, so the fats and sweets in the top of the Food Pyramid should comprise the smallest percentage of your daily diet. The foods at the top of the food pyramid should be eaten sparingly because they provide calories but not much in the way of nutrition. These foods include salad dressings, oils, cream, butter, margarine, sugars, soft drinks, candies and sweet desserts.
MEDIFIT EXPLANATION of Food Guide Pyramid:
Healthy Eating Pyramid includes the following:
The body uses carbohydrates mainly for energy, and it can get them from many sources—some healthful (beans, vegetables, fruit, whole grains), and some not (sugary sodas and other drinks, sweets). The best grain sources of carbohydrates are whole grains such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and brown rice. They deliver the outer (bran) and inner (germ) layers along with energy-rich starch. The body can’t digest whole grains as quickly as it can highly processed carbohydrates such as white flour. This keeps blood sugar and insulin levels from rising, then falling, too quickly. Better control of blood sugar and insulin can keep hunger at bay and prevent the development of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Healthy Fats and Oils
Surprised that the Healthy Eating Pyramid puts some fats near the base, indicating they are okay to eat? Although this recommendation seems to go against conventional wisdom, it’s exactly in line with the evidence and with common eating habits. The average American gets one-third or more of his or her daily calories from fats, so placing them near the foundation of the pyramid makes sense. Note, though, that it specifically mentions healthy fats and oils, not all types of fat. Good sources of healthy unsaturated fats include olive, canola, soy, corn, sunflower, peanut, and other vegetable oils; trans fat–free margarines; nuts, seeds, and avocados; and fatty fish such as salmon. These healthy fats not only improve cholesterol levels (when eaten in place of highly processed carbohydrates), but the fats in fish can also protect the heart from sudden and potentially deadly rhythm problems.
Vegetables and Fruits
A diet rich in vegetables and fruits has bountiful benefits. Among them: It can decrease the chances of having a heart attack or stroke; possibly protect against some types of cancers; lower blood pressure; help you avoid the painful intestinal ailment called diverticulitis; guard against cataract and macular degeneration, the major causes of vision loss among people over age 65; and add variety to your diet and wake up your palate. On the Healthy Eating Pyramid, potatoes don’t count as a vegetable, since they are chock full of rapidly digested starch, and they have the same effect on blood sugar as refined grains and sweets. That’s why potatoes are in the “Use Sparingly” tip.
Nuts, Seeds, Beans, and Tofu
These plant foods are excellent sources of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Beans include black beans, navy beans, garbanzos, lentils, and other beans that are usually sold dried. Many kinds of nuts contain healthy fats, and packages of some varieties (almonds, walnuts, pecans, peanuts, hazelnuts, and pistachios) can carry a label saying they’re good for your heart. Eating nuts and beans in place of red meat or processed meat can lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Fish, Poultry, and Eggs
These foods are also important sources of protein. A wealth of research suggests that eating fish can reduce the risk of heart disease, since fish is rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Chicken and turkey are also good sources of protein and can be low in saturated fat. Eggs, which have long been demonized because they contain fairly high levels of cholesterol, aren’t as bad as they’ve been cracked up to be. In fact, an egg is a much better breakfast than a doughnut cooked in an oil rich in trans fats or a bagel made from refined flour. People with diabetes or heart disease should limit their egg yolk consumption to no more than three a week; they can try egg whites, instead, which are very high in protein and are a fine substitute for whole eggs in omelets and baking.
Dairy (1 to 2 Servings Per Day) or Vitamin D/Calcium Supplements
Building bone and keeping it strong takes calcium, vitamin D, exercise, and a whole lot more. So why does the Healthy Eating Pyramid recommend limiting dairy products, which have traditionally been Americans’ main source of calcium and vitamin D? Because most people need more vitamin D than they can get from drinking three glasses of milk—and they need less calcium than three glasses of milk provide. Though there are some health benefits from modest dairy intake, high dairy intakes are associated with increased risk of fatal prostate and maybe ovarian cancers. There are other healthier ways to get calcium than from milk and cheese, which can contain a lot of saturated fat; cheese is also high in sodium. If you enjoy dairy foods, stick to one to two servings a day; you may also need to take a multivitamin or vitamin D supplement to get enough vitamin D. If you don’t like dairy products, taking a vitamin D and calcium supplement (or taking the right multivitamin) offers an easy and inexpensive way to meet your needs for these micronutrients.
Use Sparingly: Red Meat, Processed Meat, and Butter
These foods sit at the top of the Healthy Eating Pyramid because they contain lots of saturated fat. Processed meats, such as bacon, hot dogs, and deli meats are also very high in added sodium. Eating a lot of red meat and processed meat has been linked to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer. So it’s best to avoid processed meat, and to limit red meat to no more than twice a week. Switching to fish, chicken, nuts, or beans in place of red meat and processed meat can improve cholesterol levels and can lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes. So can switching from butter to olive oil. And eating fish has other benefits for the heart.
Use Sparingly: Refined Grains—White Bread, Rice, and Pasta; Potatoes; Sugary Drinks and Sweets; Salt
Why are these all-American staples at the top, rather than the bottom, of the Healthy Eating Pyramid? White bread, white rice, white pasta, other refined grains, potatoes, sugary drinks, and sweets can cause fast and furious increases in blood sugar that can lead to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic disorders. Whole grains cause slower, steadier increases in blood sugar that don’t overwhelm the body’s ability to handle carbohydrates.
The salt shaker should be used sparingly, based on extensive research linking high-sodium diets to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Since most of the sodium in our diets comes from processed foods, such as cheese, breads, deli meats, spaghetti with sauce, and food prepared away from home, make sure to compare food labels and choose foods with the lowest sodium values.
Focus on Food Quality
You’ll notice that the Healthy Eating Pyramid does not give specific advice about the numbers of cups or ounces to have each day of specific foods. That’s because it’s not meant to be a rigid road map, and the amounts can vary depending on your body size and physical activity. It’s a simple, general, flexible guide to how you should eat when you eat.
To follow the Healthy Eating Pyramid, there’s just one basic guideline to remember: A healthy diet includes more foods from the base of the pyramid than from the higher levels of the pyramid. Within this guideline, however, there’s plenty of flexibility for different styles of eating and different food choices. A vegetarian can follow the Healthy Eating Pyramid by emphasizing nuts, beans, and other plant sources of protein, and choosing non-dairy sources of calcium and vitamin D; someone who eats animal products can choose fish or chicken for protein, with occasional red meat.
Choosing a variety of fresh, whole foods from all the food groups below the “Use Sparingly” category in the Healthy Eating Pyramid will ensure that you get the nutrients you need. It will also dramatically lower your salt intake, since most of the salt in the U.S. diet lurks in processed food—canned soups, frozen dinners, deli meats, snack chips, and the like.
Perhaps the only foods that are truly off-limits are foods that contain trans fat from partially hydrogenated oils. Luckily, in the U.S. and Canada, trans fats must be listed on nutrition labels. More and more food manufacturers, restaurants, and even entire communities are going trans fat–free, making it easier to avoid this health-damaging type of fat.
THE HEALTHY EATING PLATE
When it’s time for dinner, most of us eat off of a plate. So think of the Healthy Eating Plate as a blueprint for a typical meal, for yourself and your family. It’s similar in concept to MyPlate, with colorful quadrants reserved for vegetables (green), fruits (red), protein (orange), and grains (brown). But unlike MyPlate, it offers important messages about diet quality, not just quantity:
Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits. The more color, and the more variety, the better. Most Americans don’t get enough vegetables, especially the dark green and red-orange types, or fruits. On the Healthy Eating Plate, just like the Healthy Eating Pyramid, potatoes and French fries don’t count as vegetables.
Save a quarter of your plate for whole grains—not just any grains: MyPlate tells you to reserve a quarter of your plate for grains. But grains are not essential for good health. What’s essential is to make any grains you eat whole grains, since these have a gentler effect on blood sugar and insulin than refined grains. Whole grains include whole wheat, brown rice, oats, barley, and the like, as well as foods made with them, such as whole wheat pasta. The less processed the whole grains, the better: Finely ground grain is more rapidly digested, and in turn, has a greater impact on blood sugar than more coarsely ground or intact grains. So choose steel cut oats instead of instant, sugared oats or choose whole wheatberries instead of whole wheat bread.
Pick a healthy source of protein to fill one quarter of your plate: On MyPlate, the “protein” quadrant of the plate could be filled with a hamburger or hot dog. The Healthy Eating Plate, in contrast, acknowledges that some protein sources (fish, chicken, beans, nuts) are healthier than others (red meat and processed meat).
Enjoy healthy fats. The glass bottle near the Healthy Eating Plate is a reminder to use healthy oils, like olive and canola, in cooking, on salad, and at the table. Limit butter, and avoid unhealthy trans fats. Though the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 acknowledges that Americans need to consume more plant oils, these healthy oils are nowhere to be found on MyPlate.
Drink water, coffee or tea. On the Healthy Eating Plate, complete your meal with a glass of water, or if you like, a cup of tea or coffee (which also are low calorie and have health benefits)—not the glass of milk that MyPlate recommends. Limit milk and dairy products to one to two servings per day and limit juice to a small glass per day. Skip the sugary drinks.
Stay active. The figure scampering across the bottom of the Healthy Eating Plate’s placemat is a reminder that staying active is half of the secret to weight control. The other half is eating a healthy diet with modest portions that meet your calorie needs. Since two out of three U.S. adults and one in three children are overweight or obese, one thing is clear: Many of us have been choosing plates that are too large