Fall of the Great Food Pyramid

Food Guide Pyramid

The Original.

Remember the Food Guide Pyramid? The U.S. Department of Agriculture developed it in 1992, for you nerds charming readers who enjoy these things. Eat more of food groups towards the bottom (grains, fruits, veggies) and fewer of the food groups near the top (fats & oils). So easy to understand. Why mess with a good thing, right?

Turns out, scientific research uncovered lots of boring information about nutrition, and the ol’ FGP no longer applied. The structure itself implies food groups at the top (fats & oils) hold no nutritional value, and must be minimized, if not eliminated. Smarty-pants scientists discovered the body actually requires healthy fats (mono & polyunsaturated) for glowing skin and hair. Other smart researchers determined that not all protein provides the same health benefits. For example, red meat packs tons of protein along with cholesterol and saturated (bad) fat. Chicken or fish offer leaner choices.  To solve these and other issues, some genius in the USDA introduced the following rainbow disaster icon named My Pyramid:

My Pyramid

Really? Who approved this?

That solves all the confusion. We understand the equal importance of every food group and now realize the merit of exercise. Everyone is happy. Except the poor elementary students who have to learn about this crazy new rainbow pyramid. Well, the grains stripe looks slightly larger than the milk stripe, so eat more of those? Fail.

Time for a complete re-do. Enter My Plate in 2011.

My Plate

MY Plate! Get your own!

No more attempting to translate some vague pyramid mumbo-jumbo into actual meals. Cut straight to the chase, and design my plate, damnit. The Plate still isn’t perfect. No mention of different types of grains (whole vs. refined), the fat food group completely disappeared (remember, healthy fats do exist), and exercise vanishes again. Despite these omissions, I think My Plate offers the most applicable and idiot proof easy to understand option of the three. Presented with this image, a person can immediately compare their own plate and make changes.

After all, distilling our complete nutrition requirements into a straightforward, memorable, colorful, easy to understand, striking and attractive image can’t be that hard.

What about you, my lovely followers? Thoughts on Pyramids or Plates and their progress? Or lack thereof?

Image Sources:

“1992 Food Guide Pyramid Graphics.” National Agriculture Library. 27 Sep 2011. United States Department of Agriculture. 14 Jan 2012. <http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/nal_display/index.php?info_center=4&tax_level=3&tax_subject=256&topic_id=1348&level3_id=5729>.

“Printable Materials & Ordering.” ChooseMyPlate.gov. United States Department of Agriculture. 14 Jan 2012. <http://www.choosemyplate.gov/print-materials-ordering/graphic-resources.html>.


“Food Pyramids and Plates: What Should You Really Eat?” Harvard School of Public Health. 2012. Harvard University. 14 Jan 2012. <http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/pyramid-full-story/index.html#Building-MyPyramid-and-MyPlate>.

Lewis, Jaye. “The Food Pyramid: Its History, Effectiveness, and Purpose.” A 2 Z of Health, Beauty and Fitness. 14 Jan 2012. <http://health.learninginfo.org/food-pyramid.htm>.


12 Comments on “Fall of the Great Food Pyramid

  1. Hi there !

    My plate doesn’t give you an idea of the amount of each part, you can still overload your plate with mountains of food and think you’re doing right…
    I am allergic to gluten, most cereals, dairies and eggs so my plate definitely doesn’t work for me… I agree with you with the lack of good fats and also the exercise.
    It is a good attempt anyway.

  2. Art is difficult. Simple art is deceptively simple. Diet is difficult. Simple diet is illusive. The pyramid diagram, for all it’s “wrongness” has a LOT more information in it. I think the out of date element was not the content but the style of graphic presentation. These graphic are always placed into larger content environments for teaching purposes. The new graphic is more flexible for discussion but doesn’t stand alone like the old pyramid.

    I would like to see the government or someone who is writerly in spirit do an INFLAMATORY FOODS diagram. This would be related to osteoarthritis and foods which are supposed to reduce or control arthritis.

  3. You both bring up wonderful points.

    This morning I was actually thinking about how My Plate doesn’t show amounts, thewondermya! Americans love their gigantic portions, and too much of everything creates problems as well.

    Your allergies point out other limitations of My Plate. I’m sure you still maintain a healthy diet by getting your nutrients from other sources, but My Plate only shows one way of eating.

    “Art is difficult. Simple art is deceptively simple. Diet is difficult. Simple diet is illusive.” So very true, Dad. Distilling comprehensive nutrition for all people into a single graphic is no small feat. Yet, the USDA keeps trying. I truly enjoyed researching for this post and discovering the alleged reasons for the various changes. It will be interesting to see if/when the USDA will release another “improved” graphic.

    I would love to see an inflammatory food diagram. It fascinates me how much our diet directly influences our bodies. Changes in diet can create physical changes in our bodies so quickly.

  4. What if the vegetables took up half the plate (which is my doctor’s recommendation) and then the fruit went as a side (like the dairy) – almost like a dessert? Then you could put a small yellow circle in the centre of the plate (maybe overlapping the 3 colours) to represent good oils.

  5. Thanks for your input OnMyWay. There are so many ways to eat, and of course, no one diet will work for everyone. Glad you and thewondermya are able to figure out what works for you. You both show us that none of the options in my post provide the only solution.

    In other news, this post has started quite a debate at myfitnesspal.com, the calorie-counting site I use. Who knew this topic could inspire such passion?


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  8. The World Health Organization, in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organization, published guidelines that can effectively be represented in a food pyramid relating to objectives to prevent obesity, chronic diseases and dental caries based on meta-analysis though they represent it as a table rather than a “pyramid”..

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    • Thank you for stopping by! Yes, nutrition is much more complicated than this post (rather flippantly) makes it seem haha! I can’t say that I completely agree with “My Plate” either. Granted, I wrote this post 2 1/2 years ago and my ideas on nutrition have changed quite a bit in that time. However, for someone who is stuck in the “typical” American diet high in red meat, cheese and fast food, “My Plate” is a good place to start getting on the right track.

      I hope you continue to research what your body needs and experiment with your food choices. Pay attention to how your react to different foods. For me, fruits are king. I eat all the other “food groups” too, but lots and lots of fruuuuuit haha!

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