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The USDA Food Guide Pyramid - Part One-In the Beginning…

By Marc M Kesselman

(Nerdhealth News Service We wake up in the morning and after taking care of our bathroom business, head to the table where we quite normally expect to see breakfast. Eggs or oatmeal, fruit and maybe cold cereal, milk and orange juice. Then we head to school where we go thru the lunch line for another meal-hamburger, chicken or tuna salad and hummus, a potato and a brownie. Finish school and head back to the house where we get a snack of fruit or a turkey sandwich. After homework and sports, dinner is ready. Fish or chicken maybe even tofu, a salad, bread, potatoes or rice and maybe a surprise for dessert, a frozen yogurt bar. Of course the menu changes daily. But how do “they” come up with all these menus? You know who “they” are don't you? Your parents, the cafeteria staff, basically everyone in the food biz.

Well I am glad you asked that question. Menu planning started and food guides were developed by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) in the early 1900's, when this branch of the U.S. government realized that they needed to advise the general population on how and what to eat. It became a prime directive of the USDA to go over all the current reports of everything related to food, diets and health, and come up with a plan for the American population. The USDA became the primary source of recommendations for what foods are healthy and what we should be eating. It started with simple advice to include foods from the basic food groups: Proteins, Starches, Fats, Fruits and Vegetables. In 1977, The Dietary Goals for the United States was released which led to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 1980. Soon the USDA realized that they need to be more specific in their recommendations. People were asking, how many fruits? How many starches? How many proteins were they suppose to eat? With every meal? Once a day? Twice a day? Help!!!!!

The questions kept coming. So after many years of development and testing, the USDA, in 1992, with the help of key nutritional experts released the original Food Guide Pyramid. This was designed as a 3-D triangular structure, like the Egyptian Pyramids, with a several levels and compartments. The pyramid represented the major food groups (Dairy, Fruits, Vegetables, Fats, Carbohydrates, and Proteins) and the servings of each that we should be eating. This pyramid has been used by nutritionists and educators to teach people how to choose your daily menu. It has also been used by the corporate food world to show people in the food markets, where their particular products fit in. And it is the basis of how your parents pick what's on the menu at your home. Maybe!!!!!

The largest level, the base of the original USDA Food Guide Pyramid, was made up of all the starches: breads, rice, pasta and cereals. In 1992 we were told that we should be eating from 6-11 servings of this category daily! Wow!! That's a lot of pasta and bread! The next level up was composed of the Fruits (2-4 servings daily) and Vegetables (3-5 servings daily).

Above that level was the Dairy (2-3 servings daily) and Meat/Poultry/Fish/Dry Beans, Eggs/Nuts Group (2-3 servings daily). And finally above that level and at the very top of the pyramid, that little itsy bitsy triangle, the apex, were the Fats, Oils and Sweets. We were instructed to eat items from this level like candy, sodas, butters, oils and desserts “sparingly.” Basically that meant not too much and not too often. That's no fun! The pyramid eating system was developed to help us with choices and to eat healthy!

So there you have it. The original 1992 USDA Food Guide Pyramid. Now you know when it was released, what it looks like and what's inside. A lot has happened since the 1992 pyramid and today (see the newest MyPyramid below). We know a lot more about food, diets and health as they relate to what is healthy, what we should be eating, and how much we should be eating. We also know that exercise is a very important part of a healthy lifestyle, and we all should be involved with some sort of physical fitness every day. In fact, the current pyramid includes exercise recommendations. And there are Vegetarian Diet Pyramids, Asian Diet Pyramids, Latin American Diet Pyramids, and Mediterranean Diet Pyramids. There are even newer pyramids for older folks and pregnant women. Don't forget, this is just what the USDA says it is a guide to eating and staying healthy. We all have to learn more about all of the food groups and the individual components. We have to learn what a serving size is and what our options are. It's all about making good choices. See you next time for more about food pyramids.