Guide to Healthy Eating: The New Food Pyramid

The new USDA Food Pyramid, which helps provide a guide to healthy eating, looks different from previous models.  The old “building block” approach (see below on the right) has been replaced with stripes going from the base to the top, emphasizing the goal of including all types of foods in our meals.

Do you want your kids to have healthier eating habits?  MyPyramid.gov reaches out to children through interactive games and kid-friendly explanations of the pyramid.   The site emphasizes one rule for everyone: slow, steady changes for the better.  “Just start with one new, good thing, and add a new one every day.”

The original idea of the Food Pyramid, designed in 1992, was that the foods we should eat the most of are the ones that form the base of the pyramid, while those we should eat less of are near the top.   But, if you are like most Americans, you find it difficult to follow the guidelines in real life.  What, exactly, is a serving size, and how many calories should you be eating each day?

Have you ever eaten what you thought was a single-serving bag of chips only to discover from the label that, in fact, that little bag contained 2 or 3 “servings?”  Several pizza companies were recently criticized for advertising “individual serving pizzas” that the companies describe on the nutrition information label as being 2 or more servings.

The new pyramid (http://www.mypyramid.gov/) is based on the idea that “one size doesn’t fit all.”  Food groups are coded by color stripes and some stripes are wider than others, meaning you should eat more from this group. The yellow stripe, for instance, represents oils and is the thinnest.

All the stripes taper toward the top of the pyramid to remind people that these different categories of food include foods that are healthier and those that are less healthy, and that we should eat less of the foods in a particular color category that have a lot of added sugar or “solid fat.”  MyPyramid.gov explains that solid fats are those that are solid at room temperature, such as those found in dairy products (butter, cheese, or stick margarine) or fatty, processed meats like bacon or sausage.  So for instance, donuts belong in the grain category, but donuts would be way up at the narrow top of the orange section of the pyramid, meaning we should eat them much less frequently than other grains, or in small quantities.

The person climbing the pyramid on the left-hand side helps emphasize how important physical activity is to achieving better health (if you want an extra donut, you’d better climb a lot of stairs!). At the My Pyramid Tracker you can get help evaluating your current eating habits and exercise, and at the My Pyramid interactive toolkit you will find many helpful tools, including a “Daily Food Plan,” which helps you create a personalized eating plan that’s right for you.  You can design a weight loss plan or find the diet that’s best when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

The new pyramid is family-friendly, with many foods categorized by their uses.  For example, tomatoes are classified as vegetables, even though they are scientifically a fruit, because most of us use them or think of them as vegetables. To learn more about the food groups, click here.  Remember these important tips:

Grains Vegetables Fruits Dairy Protein foods
Make half your grains whole. Vary your    veggies. Focus on       fruits. Get your calcium-rich foods. Go lean with protein.

Many of us have been confused by portions and serving sizes, so the new nutritional guidelines talk about cups and ounces-common household measures.  There is also a wider variety of food types incorporated into sample meal plans, reflecting the rich diversity of the U.S. population.  In addition, vegetarians and people with special diets can easily find good options for meeting their nutritional needs.