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Food Pyramids and Food Groups


food pyramid

One of the most interesting and divisive sources of nutrition information is the Food Pyramid. First introduced in Sweden in 1974 and the United States in 1992, the food guide pyramid is an illustration of the recommended intake of each group of foods every day. However, the food guide pyramid has not been without controversy. Some critics asked why the pyramid was developed by the Department of Agriculture, not the Department of Health and Human Services. Such critics feared that bias towards corporate influence could cause inaccuracies in the food pyramid to promote food sales.

Harvard researchers were no less critical. In 1992, Harvard nutritionist Dr. Walter Willett claimed that the USDA version of the food pyramid was not representative of current research into diet and nutrition.

According to Dr. Willett, the pyramid sometimes recommended daily intakes that exceeded those linked to heart disease, such as three cups of whole milk per day. While the US later responded with the updated food pyramid in 2005, then replaced with a new system called MyPyramid, Dr. Willett recommended his version called the Healthy eating pyramid, which included healthy foods, exercise, and vitamin supplements.

It's important to understand that the food pyramid of any sort is simply a guide to help you make healthy eating choices, nothing more. In order to truly get the necessary nutrients to maintain a healthy body, more information is needed, such as a meal plan created by a qualified nutritionist. Today there are more than 25 different food pyramids published by countries and organization around the world; most food pyramids reflect the same basic food groups as the 2005 update to the USDA food pyramid.

Food Groups of the Food Pyramid


Consulting the Food Pyramid is a great way to visualize the various food groups and find out how much of each food group you need. How the groups are located on the pyramid determines the amount of servings that you need of each group. The top group (fats, oils and sweets) are not included in serving count because they are marked as a non-essential food group that should be consumed sparingly. The remaining food groups are essential parts of your diet that should be consumed every day.

The Bottom Level


What's In It?: The bottom level of the food pyramid consists of bread, cereal, rice and pasta.

What Should I Eat?: You should consume 6-11 servings from this bottom level. When selecting your bread, make sure that it is whole grain and as natural as possible. A good way to select bread is to avoid products that show high fructose corn syrup as one of the first 5 ingredients. Ideally, bread should have as few ingredients as possible to be truly natural.

How Much Is a Serving? One serving from this bottom level constitutes a single slice of bread, 1 oz. of dry cereal and 1/2 cup of heated cereal, rice or pasta. Consuming 6-11 servings from this level of the pyramid should be quite simple during the day. If you eat 2 slices of toast and a bowl of cereal during breakfast, you have already fulfilled half of your bottom level requirement for the day.

The Lower Middle/Left Level


What's In It?: The left side of the lower middle layer consists of the vegetables in your diet. These vegetables are not limited to leafy green vegetable like other programs but include all vegetables that are available. In addition to raw vegetable and the like, this level also includes vegetable juices like mixed juice and tomato juice.

What Should I Eat?: You should ideally consume 3-5 servings of vegetables each day to ensure that you are adhering to a healthy diet. When selecting your vegetables, be sure to eat as many raw ones as you can. Raw vegetables contain all of the nutrients that typically come in the plant while canned or cooked vegetables tend to robbed of most of their nutrients.

How Much Is a Serving? One serving from this middle/left level of the pyramid constitutes 1 cup of raw vegetables, 1/2 cup of chopped or cooked vegetables or 3/4 cup of juice.

The Lower Middle/Right Level


eating healthy

What's In It?: The right side of the lower middle layer consists of the fruits in your diet. In addition to raw fruits and the like, this level also consists of fruit juices like apple, grape and orange juice. Remember that this level also consists of berries like strawberries and raspberries.

What Should I Eat?: You should ideally consume 2 to 4 servings of fruit each and every day to ensure that you are adhering to a healthy diet. When choosing fruit juice, look for varieties that contain no added sugar. Excellent varieties of natural fruit juices that contain no preservatives are widely available. If you have the time and resources, you may even consider making your own fruit juice from fresh fruit. In fact, "juicers" can be readily purchased at department stores and can be used to make vegetable juice as well.

How Much Is a Serving? One serving from this middle/right level of the pyramid constitutes a single medium sized piece of fruit (apple, mango, orange, banana), 1/2 cup of canned, heated or sliced fruit or 3/4 cup of fruit juice.

The Upper Middle/Left Level


What's In It?: The left side of the upper middle level consists of the dairy products in your diet. Although eggs are often found in the dairy section at your local supermarket, they are considered to be part of the meat group rather than the dairy group. Most of the fats in your diet (besides healthy oils) should come from this group.

What Should I Eat?: You should ideally consume 2-3 servings of dairy products each day to ensure that you are adhering to a healthy diet. This level includes all dairy products like milk, soft and firm cheese and yogurt. Much like any food group, try to eat as many natural dairy products as possible to get the maximum amount of nutrients from each product. Cheese is a great choice that can be used as a healthy snack or seasoning for your salad. Ordering a cheese pizza at a restaurant generally fulfills most of your dairy needs for the day.

How Much Is a Serving? One serving from this upper middle/left level of the pyramid constitutes 1 cup of milk, 1.5 oz. of cheese or 2 oz. of processed cheese.

The Upper Middle/Right Level


What's In It?: The right side of the upper middle level consists of the meat, nut and egg products in your diet. This level includes all meat, nut and egg products like poultry, fish, beef, almonds, peanuts, walnuts, cashews and, of course, eggs. This group should be your primary source of the protein that you need in your diet every day.

What Should I Eat?: You should ideally consume 2-3 servings of meat, nut and egg products each day to ensure that you are adhering to a healthy diet. When selecting the meats that you would like to include in your diet, try to choose as many lean cuts of meat as you can instead of beef. Fish is a great way to get many of your amino acids and essential fats. Try choosing natural meats to ensure that you are getting the most nutrients possible. Also, remember to thoroughly cook your meats to avoid any food borne illnesses.

How Much Is a Serving? One serving from this upper middle/right level of the pyramid constitutes 2-3 oz. of heated meat or fish, 1 cup of beans, 2 eggs or 4 tbsp. of peanut butter.

The Top Level


The top level of the food pyramid consists of your non-essential foods such as fats, oils and sweets. This is the only level of the pyramid that should be restricted. There are no serving guidelines for this level and you should generally try to avoid foods that are high in fat or sugar. Oils that are healthy for you are generally not included as part of this levels. callescort A good example of an oil that does not need to be limited is olive oil.

Variations on the USDA Food Pyramid


As there are a many variations to the 2005 USDA food pyramid represented in this article, provided here is a reference guide with links to various food pyramids from around the world:


Remember that the food pyramid is not a strict set of rules that are designed to govern each day's nutritional intake but instead, a simple dietary guide to assist you in making healthy food choices. In addition, the food pyramid is based on a 2,000 calorie diet and all of the serving amounts are geared towards meeting (and not exceeding) your daily caloric needs.

By using the food pyramid, you ensure that you eat the right foods in the right amounts every day. When using the food pyramid, always try to work your way from the bottom (Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta) to the top.

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