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USDA Ditches Food Pyramid for a Healthy Plate

Fruits and Veggies Make Up Half of Plate, With Side of Dairy

The New Food Plate continued...

Other top-line advice accompanying the icon is less controversial:

  • Balance calories by enjoying food but eating less, and by avoiding oversize portions.
  • Eat more good stuff: Make half the plate fruit and vegetables, switch to nonfat or low-fat milk.
  • Eat less bad stuff: Look for lower-sodium soups, breads, and frozen meals; drink water instead of sugary drinks.

In the fall, the USDA will launch a suite of interactive web-based tools including:

  • Daily, personalized food plans.
  • Daily food plans for kids and preschoolers.
  • Daily food plans for new mothers and pregnant women.
  • MyFoodapedia: information on food groups, calories, and food comparisons.
  • Food Tracker: feedback on your food intake and physical activity
  • Food Planner: a tool to plan meals that will help you reach personal goals.

(Test your nutrition knowledge.)


Food Pyramid History

The 2010-2011 dietary guidelines are neither the first nor the last Americans will see. Federal law requires the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services to update the guidelines every five years.

But even before this mandate, the USDA has been issuing dietary advice. The first set of guidelines came in 1894, when Wilbur Olin Atwater, PhD, wrote a USDA Farmers' Bulletin suggesting that Americans should eat fewer fats and sugars, exercise more, and watch their calories.

Various USDA food guides through the 1950s stressed important foods that should serve as the foundation of a healthy diet. These guides took various approaches to make sure Americans ate enough of different kinds of foods to avoid malnutrition. By the 1970s, however, too little food was no longer a problem: Too much food was.

In 1977, a U.S. Senate committee published Dietary Goals for the United States. This revolutionary document stressed eating fewer of the foods linked to chronic diseases -- particularly fatty meats, cholesterol, fatty acids, sugars, and salt.

The USDA says it did not adopt these goals because they "were so different from usual food patterns." Others have blamed influence from the beef and dairy industries for delaying USDA action until 1979, when a watered-down version of the advice, the "Hassle-Free Guide to a Better Diet," advised more moderate intake of fats, sweets, and alcohol.

In 1980, the USDA put out its first official Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines continued to stress the foods that should form the foundation of a healthy diet. But in the early 1980s, the USDA began thinking more about the total diet, rather than nutrition basics.

By 1990, the guidelines began to promote eating patterns based on moderation and variety instead of on dietary restriction. In 1992, based on an icon already in use in Sweden, the USDA came out with its first Food Pyramid.

The base of the pyramid, suggesting the foods one should eat the most, was "bread, cereal, rice, and pasta." This changed with the 2005 "MyPyramid," which did away with the building-block approach but which many found far too busy and cluttered to be a useful tool.

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