Stepping Up to the New Food Pyramid
At some point, you’ve seen the food pyramid. Whether it was in a nutrition class
or on the wall of your elementary school cafeteria, you likely remember the
building blocks of the pyramid suggesting what your daily diet should look like.
For years, this shape has ruled over our eating habits: guiding food labels,
school lunch programs and diet plans. But today, Americans are more overweight
than ever, which tends to suggest that the old food pyramid wasn’t very useful,
or even followed. So, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has
given the old food pyramid an overhaul, creating MyPyramid, a personalized tool
to give Americans a new way to organize their daily eating and exercising
"It has all the elements that are essential to motivate people to make some
steps toward healthy food and exercise choices." says Nelda Mercer, MS, RD,
spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, "There’s something for
everyone, for people who are overweight and even for those people already making
Not all body types need the same nutrition and the USDA’s MyPyramid plan
acknowledges that some people just need more food, while others need less. And
options need to be provided for those with dietary restrictions, or simply a
picky palate. The online guide (www.MyPyramid.gov) will allow you to adjust the
pyramid to your own lifestyle.
"That’s the most exciting part: some people can’t afford to go to a registered
dietician. So this is free to the whole public and it’s going to make a
difference." Mercer says.
The new pyramid features:
Moderation is the key to any dietary plan, so the pyramid still emphasizes the
importance of keeping track of the number of calories you consume; the colored
segments of the pyramid taper towards the top, suggesting that you eat food that
is high in sugar and fats in moderation. However, it now emphasizes the
consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains as low-calorie, nutrient rich
To help with portion moderation, the vague term "serving size" from the old
pyramid has been replaced with the actual weights and amounts that comprise one
serving size, such as one slice of bread or half a cup of rice. Helpful tips are
provided to keep the calorie count down, like making at least half of the grains
you eat whole grains, keeping your protein consumption limited to lean meats and
non-meat sources and varying the types of fruit you eat to keep it interesting.
For the first time, the food pyramid incorporates exercise into the formula for
a healthy life. Depicted as a person climbing up the side of the pyramid,
exercise has been known for years to help weight loss and, simply, overall
health. Tips are listed to get you moving as much as possible. And the amount of
your activity will affect what, and how much, you can eat.
The USDA has basically created 12 separate pyramids to cater to people of
different ages and activity levels. Just type in your age, gender and activity
levels and MyPyramid Tracker will provide you with an eating plan that will keep
you healthy and maintain your weight.
"It’s designed for you to track what you are eating and how much you are
exercising and see where you are according to the recommendations." Mercer says.
"It’ll come back [to you] with targeted messages, like you’re over on fat, or
For example: if you are a sedentary, 65-year-old male, the MyPyramid plan will
recommend that you stick to a 2,000 calorie diet, consisting of 6 ounces of
grains (of which 3 ounces should be whole grains), 2.5 cups of vegetables, 2
cups of fruits, 3 cups of milk, and 5.5 ounces of meat and beans. The plan even
goes further to divide up the minimum frequency recommended for each type of
vegetable: 3 cups a week of dark green veggies, 2 cups a week of orange veggies,
3 cups a week of beans and peas, 3 cups a week of starchy veggies, leaving 6.5
cups for any other vegetables. And this man is also told to limit his sweets and
fats to 265 calories a day and have no more than 6 tablespoons of oil.
In contrast, a 23-year-old female who exercises more than 60 minutes a day is
given recommendations based on a 2,400 calorie diet. Her dietary plan grants her
8 ounces of grains, to make up for the extra calorie allotment. Additionally,
she can eat up to 360 calories of sweets and fats.
Help to Make the Change
The new pyramid takes into account that these changes are not easy. If you are
finding it tough to get enough whole grains, for example, the site suggests
tossing some unsweetened, whole–grain cereal into a salad instead of croutons or
substituting whole–grain pasta and brown rice for their less-healthy
counterparts. And if you don’t want to consume milk products, recommendations
are made for you to eat soy products and leafy greens to be sure you get all the
calcium you need. Even vegetarians are acknowledged in these tips, which suggest
that they focus on getting enough protein, iron calcium, zinc and vitamin
B12–nutrients generally lacking in a vegetarian diet.
No one expects for you to make all these changes overnight. But, the emphasis is
on small, gradual changes that will allow you to ease into a healthier
lifestyle. Step by step you can slowly regain control over your diet and climb
to the top of the food pyramid.
"This is about as good as it can get." Mercer says.