The USDA Food Pyramid is exhibited in the form of a triangle showcasing six different food groups and the amount of each that a person must be consuming. The largest section held by any food group in the pyramid is usually of whole grains, followed by fruits and vegetables; dairy and seafood and fats & processed items at the last. Over the years, the content and the proportion of each food group in the pyramid was put to controversy by various experts, which led to the creation of many versions of the standard Food Pyramid. Then there was a divide on the basis of the region and indigenous dietary patterns. For example, an Asian eats very differently from a European or an American, customised Food Pyramids then came into existence, outlining dietary recommendations for people based on their diet and the region they inhabit. Many versions of the Pyramid may actually include dietary supplements while others would exhibit the inclusion of fermented foods or noting dairy as an optional food group.
The Food Guide Pyramid published by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion recommends limiting fat intake to 30% of daily calories consumed. USDA's Pyramid places whole grains at the base, as the largest group - recommended servings, 6-11 in a day. This is followed by the vegetable group - 3-5 servings daily; the fruit group - 2-4 servings per day. The dairy, and meat, seafood & poultry groups come next, both with dedicated 2-3 servings in day. The tapering tip of the pyramid is reserved for fats, oils and sweet, "which should be used sparingly," as noted on the USDA Food Guide Pyramid's online publication.
"The Pyramid is an outline of what to eat each day. It is not a rigid prescription, but a general guide that lets you choose a healthful diet that right for you. The Pyramid calls for eating a variety of foods to get the nutrients you need at the same time the right amount of calories to maintain or improve your weight. The Food Guide Pyramid focuses on fat because most American diets are too high in fat, especially saturated fats," notes the USDA Food Guide Pyramid's online publication.
As mentioned above, the USDA Food Pyramid puts greater emphasis on fat consumption as American diets are chiefly laced with tans and saturated fats. Asian diets, on the other hand, are dominant in whole grains, take the example of our own country where carbohydrates figure in almost every meal of the day, what we end up skipping is the daily requirement of protein.
Food Pyramid, the Indian perspective
"Talking of an India-specific food pyramid, we don't really have one here. The model used with my clients to chart out a diet plan follows the concept that requires a person to source 50-60% of total daily calories through carbs, 20-30% via fats and the balance from protein. Since our diets are grains-heavy, most of us tend to go low on protein; therefore protein is something we recommend adding in all your major meals. An everyday Indian meal is anyway a balanced one, you have your veggies, dals, beans, grains, dairy in the form of raita or buttermilk, we just need to follow it every day," noted Dr. Ritika Sammadar, Consultant Nutritionist with Max Super Specialty Hospital, Saket, New Delhi.
Dietary guidelines issued by USDA
It is always recommended to get in touch with a certified nutritionist to learn more about your nutritional requirements and how your daily diet can be planned to meet the same. In the meanwhile a look at some basic guidelines issued by the USDA can help you get your basics right.
- Consume alcohol in moderation
- Introduce variety in your daily meals
- Exercise regularly
- Fill your plates with grains, beans, veggies and fruits
- Go low on trans-fat, saturated fats and cholesterol-inducing foods
- Keep a check on sodium intake
The Food Pyramid has served as one of the key tools in designing a balanced meal plan for many years now. If you don't want to get into the intricacies of how an ideal diet plan should look like, "then simply follow the Food Pyramid diagram," noted my family doctor when I inquired about various food groups and how much of each would suffice for my optimum nutrition. The concept of Food Pyramid was first introduced by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the year 1992. It was initially called the 'Food Guide Pyramid', was updated in the year 2005 and has finally been replaced by MyPlate, the latest nutritional guide published by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion in the year 2011.