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The USDA the Food Pyramid Nutrition Facts

Updated on December 18, 2014




Basic 7
Basic 7
WWII early
WWII early

History Nutrition Guides

The USDA published its first dietary recommendations to the nation in 1894, this was before vitamins had even been discovered. In 1916, the first food guide, called Food For Young Children was published. Food was divided food into 5 groups:1) milk/meat, 2) cereals, 3) vegetables/fruits, 4) fats/fatty foods, and 5) sugars/sugary foods.

This remained the standard for the next 25 years until in 1941 FDR called for a National Nutrition Conference. This is when the USDA first came up with Recommended Dietary Allowances, specifying caloric intake as well as essential nutrients. In 1943 the USDA announced the “Basic Seven,” which was designed to help people deal with food rationing during World War II. Next, the Basic Four, including milk, meats, fruits and vegetables, and grains, was introduced, to make things easier to understand, and it continued for nearly a generation.

The Pyramid

The concept of the food pyramid started being developed during the 1960s because increasing numbers of Americans were getting heart disease. The USDA published Dietary Guidelines for Americans (a pamphlet which is updated every five years) to tell us all how to eat. During the 1980s, the FDA started publishing; A Pattern for Daily Food Choices, the information and the publication were largely ignored by the public. To get their message before the public, in 1988, they started working on a graphic to represent the food groups. They had three main ideas to represent, variety, proportionality and moderation .

The Food Guide Pyramid was finally released in 1992. From the very beginning, carbohydrates, as grains, had the major place in the pyramid; they were supposed to be the foundation of healthy eating. Anyone that has lived through those years may remember when suddenly pasta was almost a health food while butter wasevil and eggs were killing us. Many of us were adding carbs to our diets and eliminating fats and proteins. At the same time, diabetes was becoming more prevalent and we, as a nation, were becoming ever fatter. By 2009, 63.1 percent of us were overweight or obese, how much does this have to do with the food pyramid?

1980sand 90s


Vilsack, Secy Agriculture

Food Pyramid

Who in in charge?

True statistics are impossible to derive because we get fat for a variety of reasons and all reasons boil down to the fact that we consume more calories than we burn. The “Super Size It” philosophy must bear some of the burden and the plethora of convenience foods in the grocery bears even more responsibility. Taking personal responsibility for what we eat would eliminate the problem but we need a scapegoat (after all, we all want to be victims, the Twinkies made me do it!) That brings us back to the food pyramid and the role the USDA plays in managing the food supply and diet in America.

We remain rightfully confused about healthy eating. A 1996 telephone survey found that over 40 percent of people agreed with the statement “There are so many recommendations about healthy ways to eat; it’s hard to know what to believe.” Over time the USDA changes rules about what is important and what proportions of nutrients we need in our diet so we remain confused to this day. Research is ongoing and standards will always change as new information becomes available. At one time, margarine was a healthier alternative to butter and rare red meat was what’s for dinner, but much research has yet to be undertaken.

Genetically modified foods are a big part of the American diet, yet the USDA and the FDA have nothing to say. If there are problems with eating GM foods, well, how long did it take to agree that tobacco causes cancer? Years from now your children may be able to tell you if GM foods caused any harm. Genetically modified corn is the largest crop in the US, we subsidize the price with our tax dollars and put it in much of our processed foods. In 1998, Phil Angell, Director of Corporate Communications for Monsanto Corporation said “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of Biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.” “A recent report by the Edmonds Institute lists names of the possible hundreds of men and women who move in and out of "revolving doors" as Federal regulators and directors, commissioners and scientists at the companies they are supposed to regulate. The only reasonable conclusion has to be that when it comes to what you eat, become informed and make your own decisions.

MyPlate USDA

A Food Pyramid for Zombies!

Mmmm, yum, Brains!
Mmmm, yum, Brains!


The responsibilities and duties of the FDA and the USDA are overlapping and confused, during the recent tainted egg incident, the USDA had inspectors in the plant that was the source of the outbreak but they had no responsibility to inspect the hygiene of the plant, they were there to assure that the eggs were labeled correctly. The FDA had the responsibility for inspecting the hygienic practices of the plant. From the LA Times; “The USDA, for example, is in charge of food safety when it comes to the hens, but the FDA is responsible for the safety of the eggs — except when they're out of the shell, when the USDA takes over. The sausage that goes on pizzas is the responsibility of the USDA until it's actually on the pizza, at which point it's the FDA's. The FDA oversees seafood, and the USDA oversees meat — not only monitoring meat safety but promoting U.S. meat products. The USDA inspects 20% of the food we eat but gets most of the food safety budget.” One would think that as a nation we could do better than this mess of confused regulations and agencies but politicians offer more of the same or giving up on any regulations.



The latest entrée from the USDA in the food pyramid category is the new guide, MyPlate, this guide encourages Americans to make half of their meals fruit and vegetables as part of a balanced diet. "When it comes to eating, what's more useful than a plate? What's simpler than a plate?" first lady Michelle Obama said on Thursday at the unveiling at the Department of Agriculture. "This is a quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods that we're eating," she said. Dietary guidelines released in January told Americans to eat more produce and cut salt and fat. When the first lady tackled obesity with her "Let's Move" initiative Sarah Palin responded by taking cookies to school, perhaps conservatives prefer their children to be chubby?

Food industry groups were quick to praise the new guide, to be used as part of federal food programs as well as by doctors and nurses. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association said in a statement that lean beef could meet the protein recommendation. Grains groups praised suggestions that Americans eat more whole grains. As a note of warning, virtually the entire crop of corn in the US has been genetically modified but to date the wheat crop is unsullied by geneticists. As always, the only way to avoid the chemicals and genetic modifications present in our food supply is to buy certified organic products.

Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement, "This easy-to-understand illustration will help people remember what their own plate should look like,"

The old food pyramid stacked foods by suggested number of servings. Nutritionists said it encouraged too much consumption of carbohydrates, and producers said the ranking system discouraged Americans from buying foods at the top of the pyramid. MyPlate replaces the pyramid with a graphic similar to those used by the American Diabetes Association.

USDA Mobile Site


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    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      8 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Jillian

      When I was young I could lose like your son, alas now I have to work at it. I think the MyPlate program is a step in the right direction but relying on the government for advice is a bad idea. You're right, calories are important and MyPlate give no guidance. As a diabetic, when I followed the Pyramid advice my blood sugar was out of control, now that I avoid carbs my blood sugar is approaching normal and my weight is coming down slowly

    • Jillian Barclay profile image

      Donna Lichtenfels 

      8 years ago from California, USA

      Hi, Chef!

      The food pyramid has always interested me. The Plate seems like a much easier approach. For the last month, my son has been on a 'diet'. He has been losing a pound a day. He has a physical job and plays hockey 3 nights a week and softball once a week, but he also walks between a mile or two every day, so his results would probably not be easily duplicated. He has stayed at 1500 calories a day, not using the food pyramid, but the Plate. He has also used a scale (food) and a measuring cup. His protein sources have been limited to skinless chicken breast, white albacore tuna and yogurt.

      The only thing that I see wrong with the Plate is not bringing calories into it. Why have one half of your plate contain high cal vegetables and fruit, when they should contain lower calorie choices. For example, corn is much higher in calories than spinach; bananas are higher than berries.

      Healthy eating, with lower calorie consumption, is both a science and an art.

      The apparent conflicts between the FDA and USDA are baffling! I would think the conflicts make them both almost useless...

      Another thought provoking and educational article!


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