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The Food Guide Pyramid is a graphic representation of A Pattern for Daily Food Choices, a food guide that was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the 1980s. Food guides are tools designed to help people select healthful diets. The USDA has been developing food guides since 1916, and recommendations have changed over the years due to emerging knowledge about nutrient needs and the relationships between diet and health, changing economic conditions (such as the Great Depression in the 1930s), and changing lifestyles.
A Pattern for Daily Food Choices replaced the Basic Four food guide which was the centerpiece of nutrition education in the United States for over twenty years. The new food guide was not widely used in nutrition education until the USDA released The Food Guide Pyramid in 1992. Since that time, nutrition educators, dietitians, and teachers have used the Pyramid and accompanying educational materials to teach people how to select foods to build healthful diets. The Pyramid is also a familiar feature on food labels, where it is used by food manufacturers to show where foods fit into the food groups that make up the Pyramid.
USDA nutritionists spent many years designing, testing, and refining the Food Guide Pyramid. The goal was to have an easy-to-use graphic that would help people select a diet that promoted nutritional health and decreased the risk of disease. They designed the Pyramid to be flexible enough to be used by most healthy Americans over the age of two. However, they also recognized that people with substantially different eating habits, such as vegetarians, may need a different food guidance system.
The Pyramid includes five major food groups, each of which provides nutrients needed for good health. By making healthful choices within these food groups, like selecting low-fat and high-fiber foods, people can promote
The Breads, Cereals, Rice, and Pasta Group forms the base of the Pyramid, with the largest number of servings recommended (six to eleven servings recommended daily). The next layer up includes the Fruit Group (two to four servings) and the Vegetable Group (three to five servings). At the third level are the Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese Group (two to three servings) and the Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts Group (two to three servings). At the tip of the Pyramid are Fats, Oils, and Sweets. These foods and food ingredients should be used "sparingly" to avoid excess calories and/or fat. It is not necessary to completely avoid foods such as salad dressing, butter, margarine, candy, soft drinks, and sweet desserts, but they should be consumed infrequently.
The Pyramid includes symbols that represent the fats and added sugars found in foods. These are most concentrated at the tip of the Pyramid, but are also found in foods from the five major food groups. This reveals that some foods within the five food groups are high in fat and/or sugar. People can limit their fat and sugar intake, as suggested by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, by selecting foods low in fat and added sugars most of the time.
Author Info: Linda Benjamin Bobroff, The Gale Group Inc., Macmillan Reference USA, New York, Gale Nutrition and Well-Being A to Z, 2004
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