The Food Pyramid Crumbles

For the past couple of decades, the USDA has been trying to use a pyramid shape to convey healthy eating to the American public. Unfortunately, the many iterations of the pyramid caused more confusion than clarity. In June 2011, the USDA announced that the pyramid is being retired.

History of the Food Pyramid

First introduced in 1992, the Pyramid depicted the food groups from bottom to top placing the foods required in the greatest amounts at the bottom. It depicted healthy food choices, like chicken drumsticks, eggs and celery. From the beginning, this idea caused problems. Grains were placed at the bottom with fruits and vegetables in the middle along with protein and dairy at the top. Although years of research went into the dietary guidelines, the large grain recommendations drew immediate criticism from some dieticians. After all, carbohydrates are not necessarily vital nutrients. In response to this and other criticisms, as well as advances in research, the pyramid underwent a remodel in 2005.

The new pyramid showed each of the different food groups as a different color, radiating from top to bottom. However, the pyramid did not include any actual food images, forcing consumers to search further for healthy choices. It became more of an icon than an informational graphic as originally intended. Nutritionists and the USDA eventually concluded the pyramid was not working. It did not convey the message clearly or in a way that people could understand without additional information.

Pyramid to Plate

So, the pyramid crumbled. What will emerge from the debris? The latest proposal is a plate shaped design already in use in the UK and Mexico. Some diet plans also use this type of graphic to depict portions as well. The plate proposed by the USDA has four divisions: fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins. Off to the side is a smaller circle for dairy. The sizes of the vegetable and grain sections are slightly larger than the fruits and protein sections. The idea is to show that vegetables and grains should be in larger portions than the other items on the plate.

Changes Still Needed

Of course, this is not the first, and not likely, the last change in the nutritional recommendations made by the USDA over the past century. The focus of the original recommendations was to encourage Americans to eat a wide amount of agricultural products. Those recommendations took no notice of portion control. The emphasis on health and reducing obesity has made portion control much more important in recent years. Thus, the latest changes emerge.

Countries around the world are grappling with similar issues. Currently, over sixty different food pyramid, food plate, nutrition information, eating plangovernments have attempted to show nutritional eating through icons similar to the pyramid and the plate. For example, the Dominican Republic utilizes a mortar and pestle along with a cutting board. China uses a pagoda instead of a pyramid. While all of them are different in some ways, they seem to portray the same message: eat few sweets and more greens.

Hopefully, from the ruins of the pyramid, the plate icon will give the visual representation to help Americans make healthier choices in food and diet. However, if the USDA fails to stress unrefined foods, the large grain representation is likely to cause more harm than good. Only when the public understands that those large grain portions must be from whole grains and those protein sources should be from natural foods will the USDA recommendations support a healthier America.

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