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Nutritional Aids: A Myriad of Food Pyramids

Updated on October 31, 2017
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty uses her MS in Preventive Medicine/Health Psych. and TKM as a contractor in research/treatment for public & private health agencies.

The array of similar Food Pyramids can be confusing. Which Food Pyramid is right  for you --  or is a Food Circle better?
The array of similar Food Pyramids can be confusing. Which Food Pyramid is right for you -- or is a Food Circle better?

Ancient Food Pyramids

American "ancient" food pyramids from 1992 have been replaced.

The more recent MyPlate recommended by the USDA in 2011 became the official replacement for the nutritional Food Pyramid that was thought to be the perfect guideline.

Previous to the pyramid scheme, from WWII to 1956, Americans followed seven daily required food groups; and from 1956 through about 1970, we officially followed The Four Food Groups in schools across the nation.

The portions and kinds of foods recommended on the old USDA Food Pyramid for mainstream America have been used for a century to fatten up cattle, according to ranchers I have queried in New Mexico and Colorado.

From 1992 to 2011, the pyramid helped to cause obesity and its related mortality and morbidity.

This rendition of nutrition recommendation is more like the Native Norther American Food Circle than a pyramid.
This rendition of nutrition recommendation is more like the Native Norther American Food Circle than a pyramid. | Source

A Diet of Geometric Proportions

In the early and middle 20th Century, children were taught in school about The Four Food Groups essential to a healthy life. By 1956, the US Department of Agriculture had divided food into The Four Basic Food Groups that they recommended for health:

  1. Meat (beef and pork), poultry, fish, dry beans and peas, eggs, and nuts
  2. Dairy Products: milk, cheese, ice cream, and yogurt
  3. Grains, including cereals and bread
  4. Fruits and Vegetables

Changes to the Food Pyramid

In 1992, the United States Department of Agriculture released its revision of the four food groups as a new Food Pyramid. However, this matrix of food recommendations was not quite accurate for good health.

In fact, a client of mine whose father was a cattle rancher said,

"Yeah, that's what we use to fatten up beef cattle."

Unfortunately, one phenomenon that marred the accuracy of the 1992 Food Pyramid is that users were eating the maximum number of daily servings allowed in the "bread/cereal" level, for a total of 11 servings a day.That amount would seem to be too much.

Beef cattle on the ranch ate an equivalent to the 11 servings in corn to fatten them up and people were fattening up as well!

The USDA Food Pyramid was adjusted for better health and weight maintenance, while other health organizations developed their own pyramidal food guides.


Adjustment to Food Pyramids

In the spring of 1992, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine published its own guide for healthy eating and body weight maintenance without any meat whatsoever, naming it the New Four Food Groups, which included:

  1. Whole Grain - Bread, pasta, cereal, rice, corn, etc. All of these contained fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and protein.
  2. Vegetables - Broccoli, carrots, lettuce and other greens, cabbage, potatoes, and cauliflower.
  3. Fruit - Apples, bananas, peaches, pears, and oranges, and "exotic" fruits.
  4. Legumes- Beans, peas, lentils, soy, tofu, and tempeh. These provides many nutrients in addition to protein.

USDA Food Pyramid for the 2000s
USDA Food Pyramid for the 2000s | Source

A Multitude of Pyramids

Since the 1990s, the Mayo Clinic has offered an entire set of "Healthy Eating Pyramids" at their website.

These diagrams indicate the best diets to follow for the Asian, Latin, Mediterranean, and Vegetarian cultures or lifestyles, as well as a generalized Healthy Weight Pyramid.

At the same time, other associations have devised food pyramids specifically for diabetics, Native Americans, African Americans, and other groups. Consult your healthcare provider for help in determining which pyramid might be right to help you reach your desired healthy weight.

The Healthy Weight Pyramid from the Mayo Clinic contains food groups in daily calorie or serving allotments along these lines:

  • Sweets: < 75 c./day
  • Fats: 3 to 5 daily servings
  • Protein/Dairy: 3 - 7 daily servings
  • Carbohydrates - 4 to 8 daily servings
  • A Minimum of 3 Fruits and 4 Vegetables every day

A Weight Loss Pyramid developed by an individual artist is produced below. The bottom layer in this pyramid is the one recommended to fill most of the daily nutritional supply, largely in the first category within the layer: Vegetables.

Consult with your healthcare advisor before undertaking any diet.


The Harvard Healthy Eating Pyramid for weight loss, weight maintenance, and overall health is markedly different from all the other food pyramid guides available. The image of the diagram can be seen at the link to the right. Its specific contents are according to these dimensions:

Meats, fats, oils, 
sugar,salt, refined grains,
white rice, pasta,potatoes. 
ALCOHOL: 1 drink daily for some people
DAIRY PRODUCTS: 1 or 2 servings only, daily or 
take Vitamin D and Calcium supplements every day.
Nuts, Seeds, Beans Tofu, Fish, Fish Poultry, Eggs.
Vegetables & Fruits /Healthy Oils & Fats/Whole Grains.  

No number of daily servings is provided for the bottom two pyramid levels before the bottom level, Exercise. Pyramid users are advised to include a greater number of portions in the daily diet from the bottom of the pyramid than form the middle and top sections and to eat a variety of different food.

International Food Pyramids

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Native North American Food PyramidTraditional Food Circle
Native North American Food Pyramid
Native North American Food Pyramid | Source
Traditional Food Circle
Traditional Food Circle | Source

A Native American Food Pyramid was developed by the USDA and recommends additional servings of fruits and vegetables over the standard food guide, up to a total of 9 combined servings every day. The 6-11 daily servings of grains is still present however and dairy products are encouraged, even though Native Americans can be subject to lactose intolerance.

Canada offers pyramid food guides for Canadians in general and specifically for its First Nations, Inuits and Metis (mixed heritage) at Eating Well With Canada's Food Guide.

General population guidelines include the recommendation for 1 green and 1 orange vegetable daily, along with 2 cups of milk or soy beverage and several glasses of water daily. 2 servings of fish weekly and meat alternatives while limiting red meat, and whole grains overall without a serving recommendation. First Nations recommendations allow 3 daily servings of meat, fish, or alternatives like eggs and beans.

A helpful guide to physical activity and more rigorous exercise is also available on this Canadian food and nutrition site.

Singapore's My Healthy Plate.
Singapore's My Healthy Plate. | Source

A food pyramid for Singapore was once called the Healthy Diet Pyramid. Oils, fats, sugar, and salt are the smallest requirement at the top, followed by 3 servings daily of meat, meat substitutes or dairy; followed by 2 servings each daily of fruits and vegetables; then 5-7 daily servings of rice and grains. The Singapore food pyramid was replaced by "My Healthy Plate" in 2014.

Japan sees healthy eating for weight control and maintenance as a spinning top or inverted pyramid (see image below). Physical activity and water intake are the largest required "food group" in Japan, seen at the uppermost level of the spinning top. In decreasing priorities follow the levels of Grains, Vegetables, Fish and Meat, and Milk and Fruits.

Japanese Food Guide
Japanese Food Guide | Source

The Diabetes Food Pyramid

This food guide is slightly different from the current USDA food guide pyramid for use by the general population of America. Servings per day per food group for the diabetic version are calculated in consideration of carbohydrate and protein content.

Diabetic Food Pyramid
Diabetic Food Pyramid | Source


  • American Diabetes Association. Retreived October 30, 2017.
  • Mayo Clinic. Healthy Eating Pyramids. Retrieved August 15, 2011.
  • Retrieved August 11, 2011.
  • Interview with J. Ross, New Mexico beef cattle rancher. May 4, 2001.

© 2010 Patty Inglish


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    • profile image

      Marc Wise 6 years ago

      Thank you so much for that superb posting. When i will enjoy analyzing more right from a person when you need it.

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

      Great hub - The different pyramids are very symbolic

    • Hummingbird5356 profile image

      Hummingbird5356 7 years ago

      A well written hub.

    • sheila b. profile image

      sheila b. 7 years ago

      Your photos of pyramids lent the perfect touch.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for a very interestingly written hub.

    • caretakerray profile image

      Ray Van Hoff 7 years ago from Michigan U.S.A.

      Patty Inglish, MS:

      Thanx for a very through and informative hub. :)


    • Coolmon2009 profile image

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      Enjoyed reading your article - Thanks for sharing

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 7 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Nice comparison on the food pyramids.