Everyone knows what the Food Guide Pyramid looks like. We’ve seen it in pretty much every elementary class growing up, and it’s been ingrained in our brains: breads at the bottom, veggies and fruits next up, dairies and meats after that, and that small triangle at the top where the “good stuff” is. Sixty percent of all Americans are familiar with this model, and Lately, though, this pyramid has seen multiple changes.
The pyramid we see above had the longest run of them all. Introduced in 1992, it’s what most people in our generation are familiar with. This pyramid lasted for 13 years until the USDA decided it was time for a refresher. They kept the pyramid style for familiarity, but decided to switch it up. Not only did they add a person to the side of the pyramid, to promote daily exercise, but they shifted the divisions between sections vertically, eliminating photos and text and replacing it with bright colors. Visually pleasing, I must say. But wait, there’s more.
In 2011, the Food Guide Pyramid underwent yet another facelift, except this one was much more drastic. This one, the most recent one, is now shaped like a dinner plate divided into four sections: fruits, grains, vegetables and protein. The dairy is a small circle in a cup on the side. This pyramid follows in its predecessor’s footsteps, with visual colors and minimal text. A modern style with a slight glow, this new design accurately appeals to the senses of today’s consumers. The progress on these designs is something else, really.
But what does it all mean? Yes, these designs look great, but what if I’m an average person who cannot really understand what the USDA is getting at? Let’s break down a few things.
First, the Food Guide Pyramid was intended to make suggestions as to types of food people should eat in a day. By no means can this graphic, or any of them, for that matter, account for all possible choices people can make in a day. For example, a hamburger isn’t on the chart. Where would it fall? Some may jump the gun and say, “Well, I think those are bad for you, so it’d probably go right into the section of unhealthy stuff, the top.” Not quite. What if the meat is all natural, stacked with lots of fresh vegetables, maybe a little bit of cheese, and placed on a low-carb, whole wheat bun? That changes things, doesn’t it?
The same goes for if you had decided to get present in the dish, but the amount of follies present makes this a huge red flag. That being said, different factors play a part as to whether or not something can be considered nutritious, and the USDA’s guidelines cannot be taken too literally.
Second, the Food Guide Pyramid gives vague descriptions of portion sizes and daily servings. Nutrition facts labels can do the same thing, really. So if the pyramid says I can only have 2-3 serving of milk, what constitutes a serving? They don’t say.
This could mean anywhere from an 8 ounce glass of milk to a cup of yogurt. If I put a scoop of pasta, I’m not sure how my scoop would compare to the USDA’s. There’s no way to gauge how many slices of bread and at what thickness count as a serving to the pyramid. We don’t always pay attention to Nutrition Facts labels, I know I surely don’t, and for this reason, suggested portions as such can be problematic. This pyramid says you should have 6-11 servings of carbohydrates a day. Let me say this again for those that didn’t quite read that correctly: six to eleven servings of breads, pastas, and starches are meant for one day. So you could wake up, have a bagel with cream cheese, maybe have a muffin during midday, have a deli sandwich for lunch, a soft pretzel as an afternoon snack, pasta for dinner, and maybe cookies and milk before bed. That in itself is six different servings of bread, and I feel sick just reading it. I think you can all deduct that even six portions is too excessive here.
For this reason, it is important to really look at portion sizes, food preparation, content of the dish as a whole, and what your body needs most. Athletes might need more carbs than your average person, for example. What’s really imperative is that you know where your food is from and how much you’re eating. A good rule of thumb is making sure there’s some protein and fiber in every snack, especially seeing as both of those are what make people feel satiated. A good amount of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats with some breads and carbs thrown in there and you should be set. Try and think about what exactly you’re eating, not necessarily how much of it. Sources include USDA.gov and Healthline.com.