Food Pyramid 101: All You Need to Know 🧐

Key Highlights

  • Food pyramid is a visual representation of the official dietary guideline.
  • Authorities update this visual guide with the latest nutrition research.
  • We should be aware of our own country’s food pyramid or visual dietary guidelines.

What happens when most of the people in a country are malnourished?

The country will not grow.

Right? 🤔

To make sure the citizens keep healthy and fit, government agencies release dietary guidelines to guide people to eat healthy.

Along with the dietary guidelines, some countries release a visual presentation of the dietary guidelines in different ways.

In this article, I will discuss this visual dietary guideline.

So, let’s dive in. 🧐

Table of Contents

What is the Food Pyramid?

The food pyramid or nutrition pyramid is a triangle-shaped graphical representation of the number of different food groups that we must consume to stay healthy. [1]

In other words, the food pyramid is a visual representation that is used to explain how to achieve a balanced diet. [2]

Food Pyramid,
Food Pyramid makes it easier to understand the dietary guidelines.

Food Pyramid Facts

  • The first food pyramid was published in Sweden in 1974. [1]
  • The food pyramid introduced by the United States Department of Agriculture in the year 1992 was called the “Food Guide Pyramid”. [1]
  • Food Guide Pyramid was updated in 2005 to “MyPyramid”, and then it was replaced by “MyPlate” in 2011. [3]
  • Over 25 other countries and organizations have also published food pyramids. [4]

Importance of Food Pyramid

Due to the Covid pandemic, more people are aware of the benefits of healthy eating. 😷

But most of the time, we make the mistake by only looking at whether a single food is healthy or not.

But we must analyze foods within the framework of a healthy diet, not the food alone. 🥗

Also, sometimes it is difficult to establish how many times a week a particular food is recommended. Or if a group of foods should be consumed every day.

The food pyramid helps us with these situations. 

One of the resources to promote healthy eating is the food pyramid. 🔺

Public health organizations need to promote good eating habits, and the pyramid is a simple, graphic and visual way to achieve this.

The food pyramid aims to provide the population with a series of basic tips on what to eat in order to establish a healthy eating pattern.

Over the years it should change based on the latest nutrition research and to better adapt the lifestyle of the population.

Recommended: Read about Nutrition here.

Swedish Food Pyramid with Anna Britt Agns
Swedish Food Pyramid

History of Food Pyramid

The first food pyramid was published in Sweden in 1974. [1]

After that many countries publish their own version for their public.

For example, the food pyramid was introduced to the US by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1992. It was also called “Food Guide Pyramid” or “Eating Right Pyramid”. [5]

USDA’s Food Guide Pyramid was updated in 2005 to “MyPyramid”, and then it was replaced by “MyPlate” in 2011. [6]

Food Pyramid for Different Country

The food pyramid or food guide pyramid is a global tool. 🌎

Almost every country has their respective food pyramid or a visual dietary guideline.

Recommended: Read more about Dietary Guidelines here.

Because each country has different nutritional goals and different food habits.

Also, countries’ own food guide pyramid makes it easier for the population to follow the instructions of the pyramid.

Because that contains foods that the entire population knows and can easily acquire.

You can see the visual dietary guidelines of different countries here: Food-based dietary guidelines: Regions

Food Pyramid Explanation

USDA’s first food pyramid in 1992 attempted to express the recommended servings of each food group, which previous guides did not do. 

Food Guide Pyramid, Food Pyramid,
Food Pyramid is a visual representation of the official dietary guideline.

The food guide pyramid is divided into 6 food groups:

Bread, Cereal, Rice & Pasta Group

They are the base of the pyramid and provide the maximum amount of carbohydrate necessary for daily energy needs.

A serving is:

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 oz of ready-to-eat cereal
  • 1/2 cup cooked pasta
  • 1/3 cup rice
  • 1/2 cup cooked cereal (oatmeal, cream of wheat, grits)
  • 4-6 crackers

According to the food guide pyramid, it is recommended to eat grain-based foods between 6 to 11 servings daily.

Make sure your cereals and grains have labels claiming 100 percent whole-wheat, so your body receives the benefits of fiber. Look for bread that has 3 grams or more of fiber per slice.

Fruit Group

They are found in the second level of the food pyramid along with the vegetable group.

They provide the most number of micronutrients like vitamins and minerals for our daily needs.

A serving of fruit is:

  • 1 medium-sized fruit, such as an apple, orange, banana, or pear
  • 1/2 cup of raw, cooked, canned, or frozen fruits
  • 3/4 cup (6 oz) of 100 percent fruit juice
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit, like raisins, apricots, or mango

According to the USDA’s food guide pyramid, we should consume 2-4 servings of fruit every day.

Vegetable Group

They are found in the second level of the food pyramid along with the fruit group.

They provide the most number of micronutrients like vitamins and minerals and fibers for our daily needs.

A serving of vegetables is:

  • 1 cup of raw (carrots, broccoli) or leafy vegetables (i.e., lettuce, spinach)
  • 1/2 cup cooked garden vegetables
  • 3/4 cup of vegetable juice

According to the USDA’s food guide pyramid, we should consume 3-5 servings of vegetable groups every day.

If you do not have time to cut up or cook raw vegetables, go for frozen or low sodium canned vegetables.

Milk, Yogurt & Cheese Group

This group is placed at the third level of the food pyramid along with meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs & nuts.

They also provide nutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals.

A serving of dairy foods is:

  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 cup unflavored yogurt
  • 1 1/2 oz of natural cheese or 2 oz processed cheese
  • 1/2 cup of ice cream or ice milk

According to the USDA’s food guide pyramid, we should consume 2-3 servings of dairy groups every day.

For dairy products and recipes that use them, choose skim or 1 percent milk and soft cheeses such as cottage, ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, and Neufchatel. They have less saturated fat, so it doesn’t clog your arteries.

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs & Nuts Group

This group is placed at the third level of the food pyramid along with the milk, yogurt & cheese group.

They also provide nutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals.

A serving of meat or meat substitute is

  • 2-3 ounces cooked meat, fish, poultry
  • 1/2 cup cooked or canned legumes (beans and peas)
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup of nuts (small handful)
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter

According to the USDA’s food guide pyramid, we should consume 2-3 servings of meat or meat substitute groups every day.

Keep in mind, moderate portions of meat will leave more space on your plate for cancer fighting fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Fats, Oils and Sweets

They were found at the top level of the food guide pyramid.

Fats and sweets should be eaten sparingly. They are high in calories and fat. 

A serving of fat is:

  • 1 teaspoon of oil or regular mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon of light mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon of regular or 2 tablespoons of light salad dressing
  • 2 tablespoons of sour cream
  • 1 strip of bacon

A serving of sweets is:

  • 1 3-inch cookie
  • 1 plain doughnut
  • 4 chocolate kisses
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar or honey

Food Pyramid vs MyPyramid vs MyPlate

Food Pyramid vs MyPyramid vs MyPlate
All Visual Representations of USDA’s Dietary Guidelines

Food Pyramid

The first food pyramid was published in Sweden in 1974. In 1992 the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced a food pyramid in the US, called “Food Guide Pyramid” or “Eating Right Pyramid”. [1]

USDA’s food pyramid missing physical activity. 🏃

Food pyramid faced some criticism. For example, grain was placed at the large bottom area. So, many people thought grains are more important than fruits and vegetables. [7]

MyPyramid

My Pyramid was first introduced in the US by USDA in 2005. Actually, MyPyramid was an updated version of 1992’s food guide pyramid. [3]

USDA introduced “My” word for personalized approach. 😀

MyPyramid shows that we should exercise at least 30 mins almost daily.

Unfortunately, many people found this even more complicated than the original Food Guide Pyramid. [7]

MyPlate

My Plate was also first introduced in the US by USDA in 2011. Actually, My Plate is an updated version of 2005’s MyPyramid. [8]

“My” continues the personalization approach from MyPyramid. 😀

MyPlate serves as a reminder for healthy eating, not intended to provide specific messages. [9]

MyPlate has also been missing physical activity. 🏃

One of the main reasons for replacing the pyramid to plate is, we eat on a plate, not a pyramid. So, the image of a plate is much more relatable than a pyramid. [7]

Food Pyramid published by the WHO and FAO

The World Health Organization (WHO) with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published a dietary guideline to prevent obesity, improper nutrition, chronic diseases and dental caries based on meta-analysis. [10] 📄 

The visual representation is similar to USDA’s food guide pyramid.

But there are clear distinctions between types of fats, and a more dramatic distinction where carbohydrates are categorized on the basis of free sugars versus sugars in their natural form. 

Some food substances are singled out due to the impact on the target issues that the “pyramid” is meant to address. 

In a later revision, however, some recommendations are omitted as they automatically follow other recommendations while other subcategories are added.

Healthy Eating Pyramid

There are some other health organizations other than USDA, published dietary guidelines and food pyramid. 🔺

For example, the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) introduced a healthy eating pyramid in 2001 which was created by nutrition experts at HSPH. [11]

Healthy Eating Pyramid,
Healthy Eating Pyramid
Copyright © 2008. For more information about The Healthy Eating Pyramid, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, www.thenutritionsource.org, and and Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, by Walter C. Willett, M.D., and Patrick J. Skerrett (2005), Free Press/Simon & Schuster Inc.”

It was later updated in 2008. [6]

In 2011, the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), which is similar to USDA’s MyPlate. [12]

The Final Word

Visual dietary guidelines make it easier for the general population to eat healthy. 🍲

Government health authorities publish dietary guidelines along with visual guidelines in a five or ten years interval. 

USDA’s food pyramid is the most famous visual dietary guideline in the world. 🔺

We should follow our own country’s dietary guidelines to live healthy.

Balanced Meal
Our meals should contain every nutrients.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Finally, let me give you the answer to some common questions related to the food pyramid.

Who created the first Food Pyramid?

The first food pyramid was created in 1970 in Sweden by The Socialstyrelsen (The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare). After the price hike of foodstuffs, the Swedish government created this idea with this message “A good, healthy diet at a reasonable price”.

What was before the Food Pyramid?

There were many forms of dietary guidelines published before the food pyramid. The USDA’s first nutrition guideline was published in 1894 by Dr. Wilbur Olin Atwater as a farmers’ bulletin. After that many guidelines were published by USDA. However, in 1943 during World War II, USDA introduced the first graphical representation of dietary guidelines, called Basic 7.

Does the Food Pyramid still exist?

No. The classic food pyramid which was published in 1992, has some flaws. As the research continues, USDA updates their guidelines from time to time. In 2005, USDA replaced the classic food pyramid with MyPyramid. In 2011, MyPyramid was replaced by MyPlate. MyPlate is the current nutrition guide.

How many times has the Food Pyramid changed?

USDA’s food pyramid has changed 2 times. In 2005, USDA replaced the classic food pyramid with MyPyramid. In 2011, MyPyramid was replaced by MyPlate. MyPlate is the current nutrition guide.

References

This article is written by a certified nutritionist and verified by scientific evidence. ☑️

We rely on reputed and specialized media sites, academic research institutions, peer-reviewed studies, government agencies, and medical associations to source information. 📰

We avoid using tertiary references. Know more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy. 🧐

Following are the references of this article. 

  1. Wikipedia: Food pyramid (nutrition). Accessed 5 September 2021.
  2. Center for Health Protection (Department of Health, Hong Kong): The Food Pyramid – A Guide to a Balanced Diet. Accessed 5 September 2021.
  3. Wikipedia: MyPyramid. Accessed 5 September 2021.
  4. Food and Agriculture Organization of the US (FAO): Food-based dietary guidelines: Region. Accessed 5 September 2021.
  5. Google News (Daily News): Food guide pyramid is built on a base of grains. Accessed 5 September 2021.
  6. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Healthy Eating Pyramid. Accessed 5 September 2021.
  7. MedicineNet: MyPlate vs. Food Pyramid. Accessed 5 September 2021.
  8. Wikipedia: MyPlate. Accessed 5 September 2021.
  9. A Brief History of USDA Food Guides
  10. World Health Organization (WHO): Population nutrient intake goals for preventing diet-related chronic diseases. Accessed 5 September 2021.
  11. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Harvard researchers launch Healthy Eating Plate. Accessed 5 September 2021.
  12. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Healthy Eating Plate. Accessed 5 September 2021.

A. R. Choudhury is a IGNOU certified nutritionist in India with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Biochemistry. He also has considerable research experience and additional certificates in nutrition. 👍  Abdur started NutritionCrown in 2020 to organize nutrition information under one umbrella. ☂️  He is passionate about empowering people to make well-informed food choices to support their health. Abdur currently lives in India and keeps fit by weight training and eating mainly home-cooked meals. 💪 🥗