The U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with the Department of Health and Human Services recently released “MyPyramid,” an educational tool designed to replace the food pyramid guide that has been recognized on food packages since 1992. MyPyramid is based on the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans (January 2005), and differs from the old pyramid in its image and message. The pyramid that will be seen on food packages will serve as a reminder of the dietary guidelines to incorporate moderation, proportionality, activity, gradual improvement, and personalization in one’s lifestyle.1
Though the basic shape of the pyramid is the same, a lot of changes have been made. The side of the pyramid shows a figure running up a flight of steps. Daily activity is stressed in MyPyramid to remind individuals that at least 30 minutes of daily exercise on most days is important to maintain good health.
Instead of horizontal bands of food groups, MyPyramid is made up of vertical bands, each a different color and width to stress variety and proportionality. Orange symbolizes grains, vegetables are green, fruits are red, oils are yellow, dairy products are blue and meats and beans are purple.
The tip of the old pyramid was reserved for fats oils and sweets; MyPyramid does not have this feature. Instead, the bands get thinner as they progress up to the top of the pyramid, emphasizing moderation in one’s diet and little room for added fats, oils, and sugars in the more nutrient-dense foods.
What you will not see in the pyramid are specific serving sizes that accompany each food group, or pictures to let you know what foods are included under which band. To make sense of the pyramid, you must access www.MyPyramid.gov. Once you have entered your age, sex and activity level, MyPyramid generates your own personal profile with allotted calories, recommended amounts from food groups, and limits regarding extra fat, sugar and sodium intake.
If you followed the old Food Guide pyramid, you probably will notice that your personal profile does not specify food amounts as “servings.” Instead, MyPyramid recommends that you consume foods according to ounces or cups. This may seem complicated if you are not familiar with what an ounce of cooked rice or three ounces of grilled halibut looks like, but the website offers examples of the correct portion sizes in a “Food Gallery.” Going into explicit detail, MyPyramid emphasizes incorporating variety within vegetables, recommending more dark-green and orange selections, such as spinach and sweet potatoes. In addition, half of all grains consumed should be whole grains (oatmeal, brown rice, 100% whole wheat bread).2
Based on the most current science and research, MyPyramid was designed as a guideline to encourage consumers to realize their individual nutrient and activity needs. It acknowledges that proper nutrition is a gradual process in its slogan — “Steps to a Healthier You,” and empowers the individual to better their health and well being.
Dietary fiber (also called roughage) is an edible substance found only in plants and is basically referred to as “the carbohydrates that cannot be digested.”1 However, consuming enough fiber is a very important part of a healthy diet and can protect us against some serious diseases like heart disease and cancer. There are two main types of dietary fibers: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber can partially dissolve and form a gel when mixed with water while insoluble fiber cannot. Both types of fiber provide benefits to our digestive system through aiding normal bowel function and maintaining regularity.2, 3 In addition, soluble fiber has been proven to provide further benefits to our health like reducing blood cholesterol level and lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.1, 4
Good sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables and grains. The table above gives you some basic ideas of the dietary fiber contents of foods.
How much fiber (including both soluble and insoluble fiber) do you need to consume each day? In general, the recommended amount is 20-35 grams of dietary fiber per day for adults, but an average American only consumes 12-17 grams. Therefore, it is important to increase the consumption of dietary fiber.
Eating a vegetarian diet can promote the intake of carbohydrates, vitamins A, C, E, and fiber, while restricting the intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.1 Such dietary changes can help to lower the risk of heart disease, blood pressure, digestive disorders, and risk of cancer.2 Eliminating meat from your diet can also help you save money, since meat can be costly. If you decide to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet, you should consider what type of vegetarianism is best for you. This will help you assess what nutrients from meat you will be loosing as well as effective ways to replace them. Vegetarians omit animal products including eggs and dairy There are also variations of vegetarianism. Vegetarians eliminate all animal-based foods from their diets. Lacto-ovo vegetarians consume dairy products, including eggs. Pesco-vegetarians include fish in their diets. A vegan is someone who does not eat anything but plant-based foods, and definitely excludes dairy and seafood products.
Cutting all animal products from the diet may put vegetarians at risk of protein deficiency. Meats and dairy products are a good source of protein because they contain all amino acids, or building blocks, to support proper growth, immunity and energy.3 Plant sources do not individually contain all the amino acids that the body needs, but they can make a complete protein when combined. Eating a variety of foods from grains, nuts, seeds and legumes throughout the day will insure you are consuming complimentary proteins.
Vegans must also be aware of their calcium intake. Calcium is needed to support strong bones and teeth. It also plays a role in muscle contraction and balancing body fluids. Lacto-vegetarians, those who eat dairy, can obtain sufficient calcium from milk and other cheese products. Vegans can find calcium in fortified soy or rice milk, fortified juices and cereals, dark green leafy vegetables, and tofu set in calcium.2 Vegans should learn to read food labels to ensure that the products they buy have added calcium. Ten percent of the daily-recommended value is considered a good source of any nutrient.3
Iron is a mineral that can be found in meat, spinach, beans, dried fruit, and enriched cereal.2, 3 A large deficiency in iron can lead to anemia, a condition that causes tiredness, apathy, and a tendency to feel cold.2,3 Iron is found in both meat and plant sources, but meat sources are much more ready to be absorbed by the body. Luckily, adding a source of vitamin C to your meals can triple the absorption of iron from plants.3 Simply cooking foods in an old fashioned iron skillet can add iron to your diet as well.
Vitamin B12 is found only in meat and cannot be obtained through any plant sources. Vitamin B12 is crucial for nerve functioning. A deficiency can lead to malfunctioning of the nerves and muscles as well as creeping paralysis.3 Lacto-ovo vegetarians can find sources of B12 in eggs and dairy products. Vegans must carefully select foods fortified with B12, such as soymilk, meat substitutes, and cereals
Wardlow, G. M. (1999). Perspectives in Nutrition (4th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Samour, P. Q. & Deaconess, B. I. (Eds.). (2002) Dietitians Patient Education Manual. New York: Aspen Publishers.
Sizer, F. & Whitney E. (2003). Nutrition Concepts and Controversies (9th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson-Wadsworth.