The food pyramid is a schematic representation of a healthy diet. There are several different food pyramids. Each has its unique characteristics, depending on where and when it originated. The newest version of the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines on nutrition is called MyPlate(1), and in 2021, it celebrates its 10th anniversary.
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USDA started developing(2) food guides in 1916. During this period, the recommendations were related to children’s nutrition and keeping food safe. However, starting from the 1950s, the goal of food pyramids has changed a bit, and now it was focused on improving citizens’ health and fitness.
In 1984, the Food wheel was developed, and it was even used by the Red Cross, as it was focused on food choice adequacy and moderation. Then, starting from 1992, the phrase “Food Pyramid” began to emerge. It put physical activity on the basis and recommended to make plant-based products, namely grains, the main source of calories in your diet.
The main goal of MyPyramid and MyPlate is to show people what is a balanced lifestyle and how they can achieve it without cutting out food groups or adding too intense daily workouts into their routine.
The primary reason why this pyramid hasn’t been renewed for a decade is that it is developed by the governmental authority, which means every piece of recommendation should be verified and its efficiency should be scientifically proven.
However, if you remember how the U.S. governmental recommendations on nutrition made a sharp 180-degree turn on its approach towards fats several decades ago, you might have some doubts about the legitimacy of the modern food guides.
Just to remind you, in the 1980s, leading nutritionists decided that consuming fats make you fat and recommended the U.S. citizens reduce the volume of calories from fats in their diets. This has lead to the “fat-free” era. In addition, for several years, all the whole dairy products were claimed fattening and were replaced with zero-fats analogs. This resulted in higher use of sugars and starches in fat-free dairy and convenience foods. Like Robert H. Lustig(3), some researchers claim that this change in American food might have been one reason for the obesity epidemics we observe today.
The reputation problems the USDA used to have in previous decades make us uncertain about the efficiency of its current recommendations. So, let’s see if the 2011 MyPlate corresponds to the definition of a healthy diet and are there any scientific knowledge of 2021 that disagrees with the USDA recommendations of 2011.
MyPlate divides six main groups of products and gives recommendations on their proportional consumption.
MyPlate recommends taking approximately 27% of your total daily calories from grains. At least half of them should be whole grains. For example, you can put whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, and barley on your plate. According to the guidelines, daily, you should consume six to eleven servings of grains.
Vegetables should make up approximately 23% of your total daily calorie intake. Focus on dark green vegetables rich in micronutrients and antioxidants and yellow and orange vegetables rich in B vitamins. MyPlate recommends consuming three to five servings of minimally processed vegetables a day.
Dairy products should make up approximately 23% of your daily calorie intake. These are milk, butter, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese. MyPlate insists on opting for fat-free versions of your favorite dairy products. Two to three servings a day are considered the right daily volume of milk or yogurt.
You can have 15% of your total daily calorie intake from fruits. Remember, though, that pre-packed fruit juices and dried fruits with added sugar can spike your insulin level and are not as beneficial for your health as fresh fruits. Consume two to four servings of fruits a day to keep up with MyPlate recommendations.
One serving size of fruits is one small apple, ten dates, 22 grapes, one cup of 100% fruit juice, or one large orange. Serving sizes are not as simple as they may seem. The chances are, during the first weeks of following MyPlate guidelines, you will have to check up with the recommendations before every meal.
Approximately 10% of your daily calories should come from products high in protein. MyPlate recommends you opt for healthy protein sources like lean meats, beans, tofu, fish, and eggs. Two to three servings of protein-rich products a day is considered the right amount.
Approximately 2% of your daily caloric intake should come from oils. These can be olive oil, fish oil (rich in omega-3 fatty acids), oil from nuts, and other plants.
If you want to lose fat and live a healthy life, limit the consumption of highly processed sweets rich in sugar (like candies, cookies, ice cream, chocolate bars, muffins, etc.), alcohol, and other snacks filled with empty calories.
However, if you really need sweetness to feel good, you can afford a piece of your favorite junk food now and then. Another option to satisfy your sweet tooth and minimize your sugar consumption is to opt for artificial sweeteners. MyPlate allows you to treat yourself from time to time because deprivation can harm your motivation and emotional state, and you will need them on your way to the body of your dream.
Physical activity is an essential aspect of MyPlate and its predecessor, MyPyramid. Physical exercises were added to the guidelines on a healthy lifestyle because the activity level significantly affects food digestion, the metabolic rate, and the hormonal system.
According to the MyPlate guidelines, you should include at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise into your daily routine to stay healthy and control your weight. With this being said, you should remember that if your goal is to lose weight, healthy eating should be your number one priority.
Of course, there might be multiple speculations on the efficiency of the MyPlate, especially for those who follow other types of diets.
For all those who disagree with the MyPlate guidelines in one way or another, USDA has emphasized that “My” in the MyPlate name is for customization and a personalized approach towards nutrition. All in all, MyPlate guidelines are based on scientific facts and knowledge proven by science. You will surely benefit from this eating system if you include moderation, portion control, and physical activity in your life.
MyPyramid allows you to eat a balanced diet and enjoy your food without depriving yourself. It also emphasizes the necessity of physical activity as it is crucial for your health and well-being. It is an excellent basis to improve your knowledge in nutrition, and if the guidelines contain some recommendations you disagree with, you can always make your meal plan more personalized.
If you have difficulties planning healthy meals yourself, you can always ask for professional help from Unimeal experts. They will compose a maintainable meal plan that will consider all your needs and food preferences.