From Pyramid to Plate

The Food Pyramid has an interesting history, with its roots going back to 1917 with the first USDA food guide.


“How to Select Foods” was written by a nutritionist and was based on 5 groups:

  1. milk and meat
  2. cereals
  3. vegetables and fruit
  4. fats and fatty foods
  5. sugars and sugary foods.

Crazy, huh?


As we learned more about nutrition, the pyramid developed into what people are most familiar with–the 1992 USDA Food Pyramid.

This was updated in 2005 and renamed MyPyramid.

But the pyramid came tumbling down and was replaced by a…Plate!

Listen to this episode to learn more about the new MyPlate!


Transcript of From Pyramid to Plate

Hi and welcome back to Nutritionally Speaking! I’m your host, Michaela Ballmann.  Sorry for the little hiatus.  I got married recently and moved into a new city and new house, so my life has been a little busier than usual.  Glad to be back with you all!


MyPlate vs. Food Pyramid

I want to discuss the new MyPlate that replaced the long-established Food Pyramid.  This icon is supposed to be a clearer depiction of healthy eating and may help the American people to eat more balanced meals and portion sizes.  One of the main issues people had with the Pyramid was the issue of serving sizes. To dietitians and people with Diabetes who are familiar with carbohydrate counting, serving sizes are like multiplication tables.  We know that 1/3 a cup of rice is a serving or ¼ of a bagel.  Unfortunately, this kind of knowledge doesn’t come naturally and can take a lot of time to learn.  So, instead of trying to somehow implant this information in millions of people’s brains, we changed the icon to the familiar plate.  I mean, most everyone eats off a plate.  Sure, it’s kinda cool to have square plates or differently shaped servingware, but the plate is pretty much universal.

The place-setting includes 5 food groups: fruit, vegetables, protein, grain, and dairy. Added oils and sugars that used to be the tip of the old pyramid are gone, which I’m assuming means to use sparingly, just like the old recommendation.  Besides, fats and sugars tend to be incorporated into foods themselves, though they are sometimes served on the side, like butter for bread or sugar for coffee.

The now-deemed “protein” group was previously labeled just “meat and beans”.  I’m glad someone realized that other foods like fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, tempeh, seitan are also high in protein.  This group is a little more vegetarian-friendly.  The website goes into more detail on how to make wise choices in this category, basically choosing lean meats and lower saturated-fat options.

There is also a lesser emphasis on grains and starches and a more balanced approach to the inclusion of these foods spaced out with every meal.  It’s not a good idea to have a gigantic stack of mega-pancakes for breakfast and get all your starches at once.  Better to have a small pancake, waffle, whatever in addition to a small piece of fruit, glass of milk or milk substitute, lean protein and veggies.  Yes, veggies for breakfast is an awesome idea!!!! Vegetables are regularly eaten for breakfast in many Asian countries, but for some reason the West didn’t catch on to this healthful habit.

Eating fruit with every meal is also a great way to make sure you are getting your three servings/day.  If you find this difficult to do, you can always have it as a snack with some form of protein (like almond butter, low-fat cheese, etc.) to keep your blood sugar stable and to keep you full longer.

I think a quarter of a plate for vegetables is not quite enough.  When I give diabetic diet educations, I tell my patients to fill HALF their plate with non-starchy vegetables, which is pretty much everything except corn, peas, and potatoes.  Or add a bowl to the side of the plate and start your meal with a nice big salad, just watch it when it comes to toppings and dressings—that’s where people end up eating 1000 kcals without knowing it!

One main issue that many have found with the Plate and its recommendations is the lack of application to a vegan diet.  The plate clearly has a dairy designation, but vegans don’t eat dairy whatsoever, yogurt, milk, cottage cheese, nope! But, there are plenty of great substitutes for dairy foods out there, and I’m sure people who follow a vegan lifestyle know or are quick to learn which foods to substitute. Making sure to have a place for dairy or dairy substitutes will insure that you get your calcium for the day, as well as other nutrients, such as Vitamin A, D and B12.


Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The new website also has some selected messages that are clearly based off of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, which I covered in a previous podcast. Please check out my podcast episode entitled “The Dietary Guidelines and You” for more info. (As a brief recap, The main take-home messages are:

  1. Enjoy your food but eat less
  2. Avoid oversized portions
  3. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
  4. Make a least half your grains whole grains
  5. Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk
  6. Compare sodium in foods and choose the foods with lower numbers
  7. Drink water instead of sugary drinks)

In addition, there is a page entitled “10 Tips Nutrition Education Series” that goes through various tips to help make your diet a healthier one.  Some examples include: With Protein Foods, Variety Is Key; Smart Shopping for Veggies and Fruits; Be a Healthy Role Model for Children, and many more!

You can learn more about the Plate at, where there are plenty more resources for you to check out.


Hope this was a good, though belated, overview of our new MyPlate.

From Pyramid to Plate

I’m a Newlywed!

From Pyramid to Plate

Chipmunks and Mindful Eating

Newer post

There is one comment

Post a comment