In 1992 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) replaced the popular concept of four food groups with the Food Guide Pyramid. The new pyramid gave greater prominence to plant foods, stressing that grains, fruits, and vegetables are the basis of a healthy diet. Meat and dairy products were placed further up in the pyramid, to show that people should eat less of these foods.
The pyramid is a guide to filling your plate with the right food proportions. It can help parents set food priorities for their family:
- mostly grains, fruits, and vegetables
- adequate legumes, dairy, fish, poultry, and meat
- fewer fats and sweets
Problems with the pyramid. With so many special interest groups to please – beef and dairy farmers, food processors, consumer groups – compromises are inevitable. While the Food Guide helps the consumer make wise choices about the quantity of food to eat and their proper space on the plate, it does not address the quality of the food within each group. Fats are all lumped together, whether they’re saturated, hydrogenated, or not. White bread with minimal fiber holds the same place as the more nutritious whole wheat bread. Meat, poultry, fish, legumes, eggs, and nuts end up in the same box, though their effects on your body are vastly different.
The USDA Food Guide Pyramid stacks up the five food groups in their relative proportions. In the Food Guide Wheel, we have improved the food pyramid by making several changes:
- We not only suggest how much to eat of each food group, but also note which foods within each group are better choices (e.g., “lean meat” rather than “meat” and “whole grains” rather than “grains”).
- We describe not only which foods to eat, but which ones to avoid.
- We give legumes and seafood a place of their own, since they merit ranking near vegetables and fruits.
- We include information on how often to eat certain foods. Grains, vegetables, legumes, dairy products, vegetable oils, and fruits are foods to eat daily; seafood, poultry, and eggs are eaten three times a week; meat is eaten once a week; wine should be consumed in moderation, sweet treats in moderation.
- We include nutritious oils, which contain essential fatty acids, instead of just stating “use oils sparingly.”
- We make soy foods a separate group because of their health-building properties and because they are a healthier protein source than meat and poultry.
- We include only low-fat or nonfat dairy products.
Children can follow the same food wheel guidelines as adults, but with smaller servings. Kid- sized servings are one-third to one-half the size of adult servings. For example, kids should eat half a slice of bread instead of one slice, 1/4 cup of vegetables instead of 1/2 cup, 1/2 ounce of cheese instead of 1 ounce, and one egg instead of two eggs.