Health & Wellness

Pyramid Schemes: How Dietary Guidelines Have Changed

We all recall the nutritional pyramid once scribbled onto blackboards and plastered on our groceries nationwide. Its iconic image was all too often compared to a slice of greasy pizza or steaming hot apple pie as we all quietly questioned the structure of the pyramid’s bottom-heavy structure.

As obesity rates spiked after the pyramid’s inception, our quiet questions began to gain volume and weight—no pun intended. So why did the pyramid collapse, and have we found a better solution?

The Government’s Giza

The USDA first cooked up food guidelines in the ‘40s as President Franklin D. Roosevelt urged Americans to modify their diets in order to ration supplies in the wake of World War II. The Basic Four was the first guideline to garner attention, sporting four prominent food groups: milk, meats, fruits, and vegetables. It wasn’t until 30 years later that the USDA advised careful moderation of a fifth category built up of fats, sweets, and alcoholic beverages.

The government released more stringent and study-based nutritional guidelines in the ‘80s, but in 1992 they first proudly published their Giza: the Food Guide Pyramid. The pyramid was designed to publicly address variety, proportionality, and moderation in a more teachable and visually digestible manner—pun intended.

Food Pyramid

But the serving sizes of the grain-grounded pyramid came into question as critics found clear correlations between obesity and carbohydrates. In five years’ time, the USDA replaced the Food Guide Pyramid with a more proportionally accurate but unyielding shape: MyPyramid. In schools from coast to coast, Americans scratched their heads at the complexity of the intentionally dynamic yet dizzying symbol.


Setting the Table for Success

In 2011, a more familiar and family-friendly visual came to the table: MyPlate. Echoing an everyday place setting, this innovation introduced by the former first lady Michelle Obama and her team divvied the plate by dietary needs: fruits, grains, vegetables, protein, and dairy.

Accompanying the place setting, the USDA also released tips to better manage healthy decisions within each food groups, such as focusing on whole fruits, varying your vegetables, having more whole grains, and drinking dairy with less fat.

At the end of the day, whether you’re getting nutritional guidance from a plate or a pyramid, it’s just one piece of a bigger health picture. Your Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group primary care physician can recommend a diet that’s right for your individual needs, recommend skills to sharpen your nutritional eye, and suggest tools to keep your family healthy. Whether you need nutritional guidance or a physical to assess your overall health, make an appointment with your primary care physician today.


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