The Power of the Food Guide Pyramid

The Food Guide Pyramid, the triangular symbol you see on many food packages, was developed by nutrition experts at the U.S. Department ofAgriculture (USDA) (see below). The Pyramid is an educational tool that translates nutrient requirements into the foods you need to eat and helps you put into action the advice offered by the Dietary Guidelines. In graphic form, the Pyramid displays the variety of food choices and the correct proportions needed to attain the recommended amounts of all the nutrients you need without consuming an excess of calories. The Pyramid divides all foods into six categories, based on the nutrients they contain.

The Food Guide Pyramid

Fats, oils, and sweets (eat sparingly)

Milk products: Skim or low-fat milk, yogurt, low-fat or nonfat cheeses or cottage cheese

Meats and other high-protein foods: Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs (3 to 4 yolks per week), cooked dry beans, peas, lentils, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, tofu

Fats, oils, and sweets (eat sparingly)

Usda Food Pyramid 2021

Vegetables: Fresh or cooked vegetables, vegetable sauces, or juices

Fruits: Fresh fruit (apple, apricots, banana, berries, dates, figs, grapefruit, grapes, guava, kiwi, mango, melon, nectarine, orange, pineapple), canned fruit, juices

Grains: Whole-grain breads, bagels, English muffins, breakfast cereals (whole-grain, cooked, or ready-to-eat), crackers, tortillas, pancakes, pasta, rice

The Food Guide Pyramid was developed by the U.S. Department ofAgriculture. The pyramid incorporates many principles that emphasize a plant-based diet that is low in fat, high in fiber, and rich in important vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. All of these factors contribute to optimal health and help you to control your weight and to reduce the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer. The arrangement of the food groups in a pyramid shape calls attention to the kinds of foods to eat more of and those to eat in moderation.

Sizing Up Your Servings

Even if you eat a variety of foods, serving sizes are an important part of maintaining a healthful weight. Knowing them can help you gauge if you are eating enough food — or too much.

One Serving Equals

Grains 1 slice bread

1 ounce ready-to-eat cereal (large handful or check the package label) 1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice, or pasta (similar to the size of an ice cream scoop)


1 medium apple or orange (size of tennis ball) 1 medium banana

1/2 cup cut-up, canned, or cooked fruit 3/4 cup 100% fruit juice


1 cup raw leafy vegetables (the size of your fist) 1/2 cup other vegetables, chopped (raw or cooked) 3/4 cup vegetable juice

Milk Products (choose low-fat varieties)

1 cup milk or yogurt

1 1/2 ounces natural cheese (the size of a pair of dice or pair of dominoes)

2 ounces low-fat processed cheese


2 to 3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish

(about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand) The following also equal 1 ounce of meat: 1/2 cup cooked dry beans or legumes (ice cream scoop)

1 egg (3 to 4 yolks per week)

2 tablespoons peanut butter 1/3 cup nuts 1/2 cup tofu

Fats, Oils, and Sweets

(These foods add calories and are usually low in nutrients. Eat them sparingly.)

How Many Servings Do You Need Each Day?

This table tells you how many servings to aim for from each food group. The number of servings you need depends on your age, sex, and how active you are. The table also indicates how much fat (in grams) should be your limit. This includes the fat you fnd in foods and the fat that you add to foods.

Most Women, Older Adults

Children, Teen Girls, Active Women, Most Men

Teen Boys, Active Men, Very Active Women

Calorie level

About 1,600

About 2,200

About 2,800

Suggested Number of Servings

Grain group




Fruit group




Vegetable group




Milk group




Meat group




(for a total of

(for a total of

(for a total of

5 ounces)

6 ounces)

7 ounces)

Total fat

(less than 30% of


53 grams or lessf

73 grams or lessf

93 grams or lessf

*3 servings are recommended for women who

are pregnant or breastfeeding, teenagers, and young adults up to age 24.

f Values are rounded off.

The six categories of the Pyramid are:

• Grain products (bread, cereal, rice, and pasta)

• Vegetables

• Milk products (milk, yogurt, cheese)

• Meats and other high-protein foods (lean meats, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts)

The shape ofthe Pyramid, widest at the base and narrowest at the tip, makes it easy to visualize the contribution that each group of foods should make to your overall eating plan when you follow the Dietary Guidelines. The emphasis of the Pyramid is on increasing the proportion of fruits, vegetables, and grains—those foods that form the base of the Pyramid—and decreasing the proportion of higher-fat foods—the ones at the very top—in our diets.

The grain group, which includes bread, cereal, rice, and pasta, forms the broad foundation of the Pyramid to emphasize that grains should be a major contributor to our overall diet. As often as possible, our choices of grain foods should be those made from whole grains, for the most nutritional value.

As illustrated by the Pyramid, in addition to grains, our diet should include ample servings of fruits and vegetables. If our daily need is to be met for vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other important phytochemicals (plant chemicals that are believed to play a role in preventing disease), the bulk of our diets must come from plant foods.

Because of the saturated fat they contain, meats, poultry, and seafood (the high-protein foods) and dairy products (high in protein, calcium, and other minerals) should make a smaller contribution to our daily fare. Foods that occupy the tip of the Pyramid, pure fats (cooking oil, butter, and margarine) and high-fat, high-sugar sweets, are the ones to include only sparingly, like the proverbial icing on the cake. The Pyramid is designed to promote and encourage a plant-based diet, one that is based primarily on grains, fruits, and vegetables. Yet, by including all types of foods, the Pyramid emphasizes the need for us to choose a variety of foods and the fact that there are no "bad" foods.

The Pyramid is designed to address the needs of all persons older than 2 years by providing a range of recommended servings for each food group (see sidebars: Sizing Up Your Servings, page 12, and How Many Servings Do You Need Each Day? page 13). The number of servings that you should choose from each food group depends on your calorie needs, which in turn depend on your age, size, sex, and activity level. The lower number of servings provides a total daily energy intake of about 1,600 calories. This calorie level meets the needs of most sedentary women and some older adults. The higher number of servings, which provides approximately 2,800 calories, is recommended for physically active men, teen boys, and some very active women. The middle range of servings is designed to provide about 2,200 calories, sufficient for children, teen girls, active women, and most men. These calorie estimates assume that you choose lean meats, lower-fat dairy foods, and vegetables and grains prepared and eaten with minimal added fat and sugar.

In 1999, the USDA released a Children's Pyramid. The Children's Pyramid was designed to address the needs of 2-to 6-year-olds. It has proportionally smaller portions and numbers of recommended servings from each group of foods except fruits and vegetables. This emphasizes that children, too, need at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Similar to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Food Guide Pyramid undergoes periodic updates to reflect what we have learned about the role of nutrition in disease prevention. To get an idea of the changes you might see in the next Pyramid, let's take a look at some other Pyramids that have been constructed.

Continue reading here: Other Pyramids

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