Credits go-to: Scientific American: Rebuilding the Food Pyramid.
January 2003 article examining the development of the original USDA food pyramid, its shortcomings, and efforts to improve it.

Because the goal of the pyramid was a worthy one--to encourage healthy dietary choices--we have tried to develop an alternative derived from the best available knowledge. Our revised pyramid emphasizes weight control through exercising daily and avoiding an excessive total intake of calories. This pyramid recommends that the bulk of one's diet should consist of healthy fats (liquid vegetable oils such as olive, canola, soy, corn, sunflower and peanut) and healthy carbohydrates (whole grain foods such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal and brown rice). If both the fats and carbohydrates in your diet are healthy, you probably do not have to worry too much about the percentages of total calories coming from each. Vegetables and fruits should also be eaten in abundance. Moderate amounts of healthy sources of protein (nuts, legumes, fish, poultry and eggs) are encouraged, but dairy consumption should be limited to one to two servings a day. The revised pyramid recommends minimizing the consumption of red meat, butter, refined grains (including white bread, white rice and white pasta), potatoes and sugar.

Trans fat does not appear at all in the pyramid, because it has no place in a healthy diet. A multiple vitamin is suggested for most people, and moderate alcohol consumption can be a worthwhile option (if not contraindicated by specific health conditions or medications). This last recommendation comes with a caveat: drinking no alcohol is clearly better than drinking too much. But more and more studies are showing the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption (in any form: wine, beer or spirits) to the cardiovascular system.

Studies indicate that adherence to the recommendations in the revised pyramid can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease for both men and women among other chronic diseases.

Scientific American: Rebuilding the Food Pyramid


Applying this revised index to our epidemiological studies, we found that men and women who were eating in accordance with the new pyramid had a lower risk of major chronic disease. This benefit resulted almost entirely from significant reductions in the risk of cardiovascular disease--up to 30 percent for women and 40 percent for men. Weight control and physical activity, rather than specific food choices, are associated with a reduced risk of many cancers.



OLD FOOD PYRAMID conceived by the U.S. Department of Agriculture was intended to convey the message "Fat is bad" and its corollary "Carbs are good." These sweeping statements are now being questioned. Not all fats are bad for you, and by no means are all complex carbohydrates good for you. The USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion is now reassessing the pyramid. This effort is yet to be completed sometime this year.

Since the pyramid was released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1992, nutrition scientists have criticized the content and design and proposed numerous alternatives, including the Healthy Eating Pyramid, California Cuisine Food Pyramid, Mediterranean Diet Pyramid and Soul Food Pyramid.

Some experts think the USDA pyramid desperately needs this reassessment. "You can think of the pyramid as a dowdy old lady who never got a new wardrobe," says Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University in Boston. "She hasn't been updated on the basis of new scientific evidence and new dietary recommendations."

"It's severely out of date," says Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health.

He says the pyramid doesn't reflect the latest research on nutrition and weight control, and it may be contributing to obesity and health problems in this country.

Judi Adams, president of the Wheat Foods Council, an industry group that promotes eating grains, agrees that it needs some "tweaking," including emphasizing whole grains more.

The government pyramid, created as a tool to teach the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, took on many shapes before it was released. Officials tested images of a plate, a bowl and a shopping cart before choosing the pyramid.

"We are looking to make sure the recommendations are consistent with the most recent science, and that it (the pyramid) is better interpreted by the public," says Steven Christensen, acting director of USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.

The agency is taking a hard look at the design and messages. The USDA is also reviewing new nutrient recommendations from the National Academies' Institute of Medicine, which include advice on many things from dietary fiber to daily activity. "We are looking to see if the servings in the Food Guide Pyramid meet the new recommendations," says the agency's John Webster.



Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese
1 cup of milk or yogurt 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese 2 ounces of process cheese

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts
2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans, 1 egg, or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter count as 1 ounce of lean meat

1 cup of raw leafy vegetables 1/2 cup of other vegetables, cooked or chopped raw 3/4 cup of vegetable juice

1 medium apple, banana, orange 1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit 3/4 cup of fruit juice

Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta
1 slice of bread 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta




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