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The USDA Food Pyramid: How It Has Evolved Over Time

Friday, June 23rd 2023 10:00am 4 min read
Dr. Jessica Peatross dr.jess.md @drjessmd

Hospitalist & top functional MD who gets to the root cause. Stealth infection & environmental toxicity keynote speaker.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced the food pyramid in 1992 as a visual guide to healthy eating. The pyramid was designed to be a simple and effective way to educate the public about nutrition and healthy eating habits. The pyramid underwent significant changes over the years due to evolving scientific knowledge and new research on nutrition. In this article, we will examine the history of the food pyramid, its changes over time, and the pros and cons of each change.

History of the food pyramid

The first food pyramid was introduced in 1992, with a focus on grains, fruits, and vegetables. The pyramid was criticized for not placing enough emphasis on protein-rich foods, such as meat and dairy products. In 2005, the USDA introduced a new food pyramid, called MyPyramid, which aimed to address these criticisms. MyPyramid had six vertical stripes, each representing a food group, with the width of the stripes indicating the recommended daily servings of each food group. The stripes included grains, vegetables, fruits, oils, dairy, and protein. The protein stripe was much wider than in the previous pyramid, indicating a greater emphasis on protein-rich foods.
In 2011, MyPyramid was replaced by MyPlate, which is the current food pyramid. MyPlate is a simple visual guide that illustrates the five food groups that are essential for a healthy diet: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. The plate is divided into four sections, with fruits and vegetables taking up half of the plate, and grains and protein taking up the other half. Dairy is represented by a small circle next to the plate, indicating that it is an important but optional part of a healthy diet.

Devising the current pyramid

The development of MyPlate was based on recommendations from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which were issued by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services. The guidelines recommend that individuals consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages within the basic food groups and limit the intake of saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.
MyPlate was designed to be a simple, easy-to-understand visual guide to help Americans make healthy food choices. The plate is based on the idea that half of a person’s plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables, while the other half should be divided equally between grains and protein. The dairy circle represents a smaller portion of the plate, indicating that it is an important but optional part of a healthy diet.

Influence of food manufacturers

The food pyramid has been influenced by various stakeholders over the years, including food manufacturers. The meat and dairy industries, for example, have historically played a significant role in shaping the recommendations for these food groups.
Critics argue that the influence of the food industry has led to the promotion of certain food groups, such as meat and dairy, over others, and has resulted in confusing and sometimes conflicting dietary advice. For example, the 1992 food pyramid placed a significant emphasis on grains, which critics argue was due to the influence of the grain industry.

Pros and cons of changes in the food pyramid

The changes to the food pyramid have been met with both praise and criticism. Here are some of the pros and cons of each change.

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