Question of the Week
July 26, 2004


The Food Guide Pyramid has been around for over a decade. It has covered the walls in classrooms and doctors offices. It has found prominence in health textbooks and community nutrition programs.

"Most Americans are familiar with the federal Food Guide Pyramid - but a lot of people don't understand how to use it. Too many are confused by the recommendations and can't figure out how to implement them. The proof, Agriculture Department officials say, is that two out of three Americans are fat. So, as officials develop new guidelines on healthy eating, they also are looking for new ways to get out the message. Replacing the familiar food pyramid, first published in 1992, may be among them.... Typical of the pyramid's shortcomings is that some people thought the graphic's recommendation of 6 to 11 daily servings from the grains group, such as bread, meant they could have anywhere from six to 11 servings. A slice of bread is a serving. Only after the eater checks the pyramid's supplemental literature does it become clear that six servings are sufficient for people who don't burn a lot of calories in a day... Eleven servings are for those with high-revved metabolisms, such as teenage boys. The government wants a graphic that will encourage people to get the information they need to eat better and act on it..."

While it has been difficult for many to put into practice, the creators of the Food Guide Pyramid had hoped that it would provide an outline to help Americans balance the foods they were already eating in a healthy way.

"The Food Guide Pyramid can help you put the Dietary Guidelines into action. The pyramid illustrates the research-based food guidance developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and supported by the Department of Health and Human Services. It is based on USDA's research on what foods Americans eat, what nutrients are in these foods, and how to make the best food choices to promote good health. It outlines what to eat each day, but it is not a rigid prescription. You can use it as a general guide in choosing a healthful diet that is right for you. The pyramid calls for eating a variety of foods to get the nutrients you need, and, at the same time, the right amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight."

The traditional Food Pyramid (to which the FDA refers in the above quote) can be viewed at:

While those who created the original Pyramid now doubt its effectiveness due to lack of understanding and implementation, others find fault with it at a much deeper level.

"Unfortunately, the information embodied in this pyramid doesn't point the way to healthy eating. Why not? Its blueprint was based on shaky scientific evidence, and it hasn't appreciably changed over the years to reflect major advances in our understanding of the connection between diet and health.... As an alternative to the USDA's flawed pyramid, faculty members in the Harvard School of Public Health built the Healthy Eating Pyramid. It resembles the USDA's in shape only. The Healthy Eating Pyramid takes into consideration, and puts into perspective, the wealth of research conducted during the last ten years that has reshaped the definition of healthy eating."

(Further discussion of the Food Guide Pyramid and Healthy Eating Pyramid can be found at the above site. By scrolling down, you can also find images of both pyramids on this page.)

Another problem for some is: "It is based on USDA's research on what foods Americans eat..."

Since it is not based on the foods that all Americans eat, other groups have created their own pyramids...

"To offer a healthful alternative to the 1992 U.S. Food Guide Pyramid, which lumps some animal and plant foods together in a single group, Cornell and Harvard University researchers have teamed up with other experts to assist the non-profit foundation, Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust, unveil an official Asian Diet Pyramid. It reflects the traditional, plant-based rural diets of Asia, which research increasingly shows to be linked to much lower rates of certain cancers, heart disease, obesity and, in some cases, osteoporosis and other chronic, degenerative diseases than those found in the United States."

(The above link will bring you to the Cornell University web site, where you can view the Asian Diet Pyramid.)

Other Pyramids include:

The Latin American Diet Pyramid

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

For those who have chosen a vegetarian lifestyle:

"The Vegetarian Food Guide Pyramid is a general guide to healthy eating and a balanced diet for vegetarians (ovo-lacto vegetarians and ovo vegetarians) and vegans. For optimum vegetarian nutrition and calorie-intake, the Vegetarian Pyramid advises eating foods from a variety of food groups each day. These dietary guidelines also help you to maintain or improve your fat levels and body weight."

To view the vegetarian food guide pyramid, you can visit:

One low-carb diet also has its own Pyramid:

"The Atkins Lifestyle Food Guide Pyramid is designed to address the epidemic of obesity by providing an easy-to-follow nutritional strategy for achieving and/or maintaining a healthy weight. Atkins also informed the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that medical experts with Atkins Health & Medical Information Services (AHMIS) intend to file comments with the government's Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, based on the Atkins Nutritional Approach and its dietary philosophy."

(The above link will bring you to the Atkins web site, where you can view the Atkins Lifestyle Food Guide Pyramid.)

There is also a pyramid for those focussing on weight management:

"The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid is a tool to help you lose weight or maintain your weight. It focuses on nutritious foods that contain a small number of calories in a large amount of food � such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, poultry, fish or whole grains. Fruits and vegetables, allowed in unlimited amounts, form the foundation of the pyramid. This pyramid also recommends healthy food choices within each food group. Candy and other processed sweets are acceptable, but in moderation �up to 75 calories daily."
Mayo Clinic

(The above link will bring you to the Mayo Clinic web site, where you can view the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid. Click on the image for an enlarged version and access to the above text.)

Questions of the Week:
Is there (or can there be) one Food Pyramid or Healthy Living Pyramid that is right for everyone? How would you create a Pyramid that could be implemented by your peers or those in your community? Where would you get the information to help you make the best choices for how to balance each level? What research would you use to defend the choices you made for the Pyramid you created?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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