Every Nutrient
    Food Pyramid

    Food Pyramid

    A food pyramid, also known as a food guide pyramid, was a food classification system that provided guidance on what we should eat everyday. In general, pyramids are no longer being used as a food classification system for daily nutrition. The plate method is the new, more effective system of food classification and dietary guidance. Foods are grouped into categories such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein. The purpose of the daily nutrition classification guide is to help us get the necessary nutrients without consuming too many calories. Food classification guides for daily nutrition are provided by several organizations including the following:

    USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) – ChooseMyPlate.gov,Harvard School of Public Health – Healthy Eating Plate, and University of Michigan Integrative Medicine – Healing Foods Pyramid.

    USDA Food Guide Pyramid:

    The original USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) food guide pyramid for the general public was created in 1992. It was replaced in 2005 with the MyPyramid food guide pyramid, which was then replaced on June 2, 2011 with the ChooseMyPlate food guide pyramid. The USDA food guide pyramid has been a widely recognized educational tool based on USDA dietary guidelines. Since the original one created in 1992, the USDA food guide pyramid has been posted on many food packages and used in various organizations such as schools, nutrition centers, and doctor’s offices. The USDA food guide pyramid isn’t a rigid prescription of what we should eat, but it’s a general guide that helps us choose a healthy diet that’s right for us. The USDA dietary guidelines can be modified according to each individual’s circumstance. The USDA provides a food guide pyramid for the general population, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, children, vegetarians, older adults, ethinic/cultural, and for individuals who are trying to loose weight.

    USDA Special Audience Food Guide Pyramids

    Controversy Regarding the USDA Food Guide Pyramids

    The USDA published their first food guide in 1916. It was called, “Food For Young Children”. It consisted of 7 basic food guidelines. In 1943 the “basic seven” food guidelines was considered to be too complex, so it was replaced by the “basic four” food guidelines. The basic 4 food guidelines were milk, meat, fruits, and vegetables. Later there was a fifth group added which consisted of fats, sugars, and alcohol. This food guide pyramid was recommended to be used on a restricted basis.

    More research was conducted on dietary factors and in 1992, a new food guide pyramid was created. It was released to the public in 1994. The commonly known 1992 food guide pyramid consisted of levels with different types of food on each level. Those at the top were recommended to be consumed the least and those on the bottom were recommended to be consumed the most. The levels and food groups consisted of the following: 1st level – (Fats, Oils, and Sweets Group). 2nd Level – (Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese Group) & (Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts Group). 3rd Level – (Vegetable Group & Fruit Group). 4th Level – (Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta Group).

    After several years it was realized that the 1992 food guide pyramid wasn’t compatible with the latest research on dietetics. Health critics suggested that the 1992 food guide pyramid reflected dietary choices that have been linked to heart disease such as consuming three cups of whole milk and an 8 oz. serving of hamburger daily. The pyramid also lacked differentiation within the protein-rich group (Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts). There was also criticism about the 1992 food guide pyramid regarding its lack of clarity with recommended quantities. The 1992 pyramid recommended 2 to 3 servings from the protein-rich group, but that was intended to be a maximum. The pyramid also recommended 2 to 4 servings from fruit, but that was intended to be the minimum.

    The pyramid did not distinguish between whole grains and refined grains. At that time most western diets consisted of refined grains instead of whole grains. Refined carbohydrates are considered “empty calories” and come mainly from refined grains and processed, packaged foods made with refined grains. They are referred to as empty calories because although they contain enough calories, they don’t have the capability to sustain us from hunger. When refined carbohydrates are consumed, they sustain individuals for about two hours and then hypoglycemia occurs – blood sugar drops suddenly and very rapidly to the point of dizziness, headaches, faintness, and shakiness in a victim, causing almost a starving feeling. This is the point when the person feels an urgent need to eat again. Calories from refined carbohydrates offer very little nutrition and due to their high calorie count, they can lead to excessive weight gain.

    Also, on the 1992 food guide pyramid the fats group was placed at the top of the pyramid and gave the assumption that we should eat as little fat as possible because consuming fats leads to health problems. The truth is healthy fats are essential for proper functioning of the body. Unsaturated fats from natural sources can actually help in weight loss, reduce heart disease risk, help in proper functioning of the brain, and even lower cholesterol. Good sources of healthy, unsaturated fats include: olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, and fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna).

    Some claim that the USDA was (and continues to be) influenced by political pressure from food production associations.

    Sources: USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), US Department of Health and Human Services, CSPI (Center For Science in the Public Interest), ADA (American Dietetics Association) and Wikipedia.

    USDA Food Guide Pyramid (1992 – 2005)
    USDA Food Guide Pyramid (2005 – 2011)
    Inside The Pyramid (MyPyramid):


    Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products.

    Grains are divided into 2 subgroups, whole grains and refined grains.

    Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel — the bran, germ, and endosperm. Examples include: whole-wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, whole cornmeal, and brown rice.

    Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Some examples of refined grain products are: white flour, degermed cornmeal, white bread, and white rice.

    Most refined grains are enriched. This means certain B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, and iron) are added back after processing. Fiber is not added back to enriched grains. Check the ingredient list on refined grain products to make sure that the word enriched is included in the grain name. Some food products are made from mixtures of whole grains and refined grains.


    Any vegetable or 100% vegetable juice counts as a member of the vegetable group. Vegetables may be raw or cooked; fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated; and may be whole, cut-up, or mashed.

    Vegetables are organized into 5 subgroups, based on their nutrient content. Some commonly eaten vegetables in each subgroup are: Dark green vegetables (bok choy, broccoli, collard greens, dark green leafy lettuce, kale, mesclun, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, spinach, turnip greens, and watercress). Orange vegetables (acorn squash, butternut squash, carrots, hubbard squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes). Dry beans and peas {black beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney beans, lentils, lima beans (mature), navy beans, pinto beans, soy beans, split peas, tofu (bean curd made from soybeans), and white beans}. Starchy vegetables (corn, green peas, lima beans (green), and potatoes). Other vegetables (artichokes, asparagus, bean sprouts, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, green or red peppers, iceberg (head) lettuce, mushrooms, okra, onions, parsnips, tomatoes, tomato juice, vegetable juice, turnips, wax beans, and zucchini).


    Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed. Some commonly eaten fruits are: Apples, Apricots, Avocados, Bananas, Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries) Grapefruit, Grapes, Kiwi fruit, Lemons, Limes, Mangoes, Melons (cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon), Mixed fruits (fruit cocktail), Nectarines, Oranges, Peaches, Pears, Papaya, Pineapple, Plums, Prunes, Raisins,
    Tangerines, and 100% Fruit juice (orange, apple, grape, grapefruit).


    All fluid milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Foods made from milk that retain their calcium content are part of the group, while foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter, are not. Most milk group choices should be fat-free or low-fat.

    Some commonly eaten choices in the milk, yogurt, and cheese group are: Liquid Milk {fat-free (skim), low fat (1%), reduced fat (2%), and whole milk}, Flavored Milks (chocolate, strawberry), Lactose reduced milks, Milk-based desserts (Puddings made with milk, ice milk, frozen yogurt, ice cream), Cheese {Hard natural cheeses (cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, Parmesan), soft cheeses (ricotta, cottage cheese), processed cheeses (American)}, All Yogurt (Fat-free, low fat, reduced fat, and whole milk yogurt).

    Meat & Beans:

    All foods made from meat, poultry, fish, dry beans or peas, eggs, nuts, and seeds are considered part of this group. Dry beans and peas are part of this group as well as the vegetable group.

    Most meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat. Fish, nuts, and seeds contain healthy oils, so choose these foods frequently instead of meat or poultry.

    Dry beans and peas are the mature forms of legumes such as kidney beans, pinto beans, lima beans, black-eyed peas, and lentils. These foods are excellent sources of plant protein and also provide other nutrients such as iron and zinc. They are similar to meats, poultry, and fish in their contribution of these nutrients. Many people consider dry beans and peas as vegetarian alternatives for meat. However, they are also excellent sources of dietary fiber and nutrients such as folate that are low in diets of many Americans. These nutrients are found in plant foods like vegetables.
    Because of their high nutrient content, consuming dry beans and peas is recommended for everyone, including people who also eat meat, poultry, and fish regularly. The Food Guide includes dry beans and peas as a subgroup of the vegetable group, and encourages their frequent consumption several cups a week as a vegetable selection. But the Guide also indicates that dry beans and peas may be counted as part of the meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and
    nuts group.

    Why is it important to include fish, nuts, and seeds?

    Many people do not make varied choices from this food group, selecting meat or poultry everyday as their main dishes. Varying choices and including fish, nuts, and seeds in meals can boost intake of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Most fat in the diet should come from MUFAs and PUFAs. Some of the PUFAs are essential for health the body cannot create them from other fats.

    Some fish (such as salmon, trout, and herring) are high in a type of PUFA called omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish are commonly called EPA and DHA. There is some limited evidence that suggests eating fish rich in EPA and DHA may reduce the risk for mortality from cardiovascular disease. (EPA is eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA is
    docosahexaenoic acid.)

    Some nuts and seeds (flax, walnuts) are excellent sources of essential fatty acids, and some (sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts) are good sources of vitamin E.


    Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, like the vegetable oils used in cooking. Oils come from many different plants and from fish. Some common oils are: canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, olive oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil.

    Some oils are used mainly as flavorings, such as walnut oil and sesame oil. A number of foods are naturally high in oils, like: nuts, olives, some fish, and avocados.

    Foods that are mainly oil include mayonnaise, certain salad dressings, and soft (tub or squeeze) margarine with no trans fats. Check the Nutrition Facts label to find margarines with 0 grams of trans fat. Amounts of trans fat will be required on labels as of 2006. Many products already provide this information.

    Most oils are high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, and low in saturated fats. Oils from plant sources (vegetable and nut oils) do not contain any cholesterol. In fact, no foods from plant sources contain cholesterol.

    A few plant oils, however, including coconut oil and palm kernel oil, are high in saturated fats and for nutritional purposes should be considered to be solid fats.

    Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature, like butter and shortening. Solid fats come from many animal foods and can be made from vegetable oils through a process called hydrogenation. Some common solid fats are: butter, beef, fat (tallow, suet), chicken fat, pork fat (lard), stick margarine, and shortening.

    Good nutrition is vital to good health and is absolutely essential for the healthy growth and development of children and adolescents. Major causes of morbidity and mortality in the United States are related to poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Specific diseases and conditions linked to poor diet include cardiovascular disease, hypertension, dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, overweight and obesity, osteoporosis, constipation, diverticular disease, iron deficiency anemia, oral disease, malnutrition, and some cancers. Lack of physical activity has been associated with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, overweight and obesity, osteoporosis, diabetes, and certain cancers. Furthermore, muscle strengthening and improving balance can reduce falls and increase functional status among older adults. Together with physical activity, a high-quality diet that does not provide excess calories should enhance the health of most individuals.

    Poor diet and physical inactivity, resulting in an energy imbalance (more calories consumed than expended), are the most important factors contributing to the increase in overweight and obesity in this country. Moreover, overweight and obesity are major risk factors for certain chronic diseases such as diabetes. In 1999-2002, 65 percent of U.S. adults were overweight, an increase from 56 percent in 1988-1994. Data from 1999-2002 also showed that 30 percent of adults were obese, an increase from 23 percent in an earlier survey. Dramatic increases in the prevalence of overweight have occurred in children and adolescents of both sexes, with approximately 16 percent of children and adolescents aged 6 to 19 years considered to be overweight (1999-2002).3 In order to reverse this trend, many Americans need to consume fewer calories, be more active, and make wiser choices within and among food groups. The Dietary Guidelines provides a framework to promote healthier lifestyles (see ch. 3).

    Given the importance of a balanced diet to health, the intent of the Dietary Guidelines is to summarize and synthesize knowledge regarding individual nutrients and food components into recommendations for an overall pattern of eating that can be adopted by the general public. These patterns are exemplified by the USDA Food Guide and the DASH Eating Plan (see ch. 2 and app. A). The Dietary Guidelines is applicable to the food preferences of different racial/ethnic groups, vegetarians, and other groups. This concept of balanced eating patterns should be utilized in planning diets for various population groups.

    There is a growing body of evidence which demonstrates that following a diet that complies with the Dietary Guidelines may reduce the risk of chronic disease. Recently, it was reported that dietary patterns consistent with recommended dietary guidance were associated with a lower risk of mortality among individuals age 45 years and older in the United States.4 The authors of the study estimated that about 16 percent and 9 percent of mortality from any cause in men and women, respectively, could be eliminated by the adoption of desirable dietary behaviors. Currently, adherence to the Dietary Guidelines is low among the U.S. population. Data from USDA illustrate the degree of change in the overall dietary pattern of Americans needed to be consistent with a food pattern encouraged by the Dietary Guidelines (fig. 1).

    A basic premise of the Dietary Guidelines is that nutrient needs should be met primarily through consuming foods. Foods provide an array of nutrients (as well as phytochemicals, antioxidants, etc.) and other compounds that may have beneficial effects on health. In some cases, fortified foods may be useful sources of one or more nutrients that otherwise might be consumed in less than recommended amounts. Supplements may be useful when they fill a specific identified nutrient gap that cannot or is not otherwise being met by the individual’s intake of food. Nutrient supplements cannot replace a healthful diet. Individuals who are already consuming the recommended amount of a nutrient in food will not achieve any additional health benefit if they also take the nutrient as a supplement. In fact, in some cases, supplements and fortified foods may cause intakes to exceed the safe levels of nutrients. Another important premise of the Dietary Guidelines is that foods should be prepared and handled in such a way that reduces risk of foodborne illness.

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