Is The USDA Food Pyramid a Healthy Guide?

The USDA food pyramid can be used as a healthy guide when used correctly. The challenge is knowing how to read this interactive tool that is intended to be personalized. The new food pyramid, known as My Pyramid, guides users to maintain a healthy lifestyle with exercise and a balanced diet. The core of the pyramid is still lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Features of the New Pyramid

With the new changes, some symbolic analysis needs to be done. The pictures of food to represent the sections are absent in the new structure, and somewhat subtle size differences demonstrate the percentage of servings or calorie intake for each food group. Colors represent each food group — yellow for fats, green for veggies and purple for meats.

Get Physical

The new pyramid demonstrates that exercise and physical activity should be supported by a healthy lifestyle. In the interactive onlilne pyramid, there are even different recommendations for children, teens and adults, along with suggestions of what type of exercise to do.

Food Groups

Each color coded food group represents the proportion of servings that should go into your diet. A click on the personalized pyramid will give you a number of servings that someone of your body type and activity level needs.

On the upside, the personalization makes for a more understandable pyramid. The inclusion of physical activities was a key change that encourages users to maintain better cardiovascular health. However, there are a few drawbacks of the new food pyramid.

Quality of Food Choices

Although the food groups describe items that qualify for each food group, clear, healthy choices are sometimes blurred. Is is difficult to see the difference in quality in foods that are healthier than others. For example, strawberries and fruit cocktail are listed in the same section, but have an extremely different calorie content. Fruit cocktail can be packed in high calorie, sugary syrup, where strawberries provide no added sugar and more fiber. These sorts of details are not considered on the pyramid, and may lead to choices that don’t significantly increase the health factor of your diet.


Avid exercisers generally opt for a 40-30-30 diet, or 40% of the caloric intake in protein, 30% from carbohydrates, and 30% from fats. It is difficult to interpret the food pyramid as such, when more than half of the pyramid is comprised of grains, fruits and vegetables. A small triangle represents lean protein, and another dairy, so it would be easy to overdo carbohydrates and not consume enough protein. For fit, lean people, consider the 40-30-30 when building your diet with this guideline.

Caloric Intake Suggestions

Personalizing the pyramid seems like a great idea, however, you may question the accuracy of the suggested calorie range for your size and activity level. In some cases, users reported a 700 calorie increase in their suggested calories over other professional suggestions. That translates to an excess of 3500 calories in 5 days, or gaining a pound every 5 days!  Yikes! Be sure to get other suggestions before following the recommendations here.

When used in conjunction with other nutritional suggestions, the food pyramid can be a healthy guide. But, consider it that — a guide — not your only nutritional tutor.


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