The New Food Pyramid

Did you know that the United States Department of Agriculture revised their food pyramid in 2005? The new food pyramid represents recommended proportions of varied foods per day, and includes an icon that represents physical activity.

Physical Activity
The person depicted climbing up the food pyramid represents the importance of physical activity in correlation with one's diet. The government recommends that you be physically active for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Children and teenagers ought to be active for an hour every day, or most days.

To be physically active just means moving the body in a way that uses energy. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, walking, gardening, climbing the stairs, and playing soccer are all good examples of being physically active. In order to reap the health benefits, though, you should be sure that the physical activity you undertake is moderate or vigorous for at least 30 minutes per day. Some physical activities are just not intense enough to help you meet these recommendations. If you are moving, but your heart rate is not increased, this does not count as healthy physical activity. Light household chores and walking at a casual pace will not contribute to the 30 minutes of physical activity you should aim for.

The orange slice of the new food pyramid indicates the proportions of grains in your diet. You should make half of your daily intake of grains whole grains. This amounts to approximately three ounces of whole grain bread, cereal, crackers, rice, or pasta every day. Be sure to look for the word "whole" before the name of the grain when examining ingredients or grocery items.

Foods in the grain group includes any food that is made from rice, oats, cornmeal, wheat, barley, or other cereal grains. Examples of grain products are things like tortillas, grits, pasta, oatmeal, bread, and cereals.

Whole grains preserve the entire grain kernel, which means that you get all the benefits of the bran, germ, and endosperm. Whole grains include whole-wheat flour, bulgur, oatmeal, whole cornmeal, and brown rice. On the other hand, refined grains are grains that are milled. This means that the bran and the germ have been removed. This will give the grains a finer texture and improves their shelf life, but it also removes much dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Examples of grain products that have been refined include white flour, white bread, and white rice. Most refined grains have some certain B vitamins added back in after they have been processed. You can check to see if this is so with the products you purchase by checking for the word "enriched." This does not mean that the fiber has also been added back, however.

The green section of the pyramid shows the ratio of vegetables in your diet. Be sure to vary the vegetables in your diet, but eat enough dark green and orange vegetables. And don't forget about dry beans and peas!

Members of the vegetable group includes not only vegetables themselves, but any 100% vegetable juice. Vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked. They can also be found fresh, frozen, canned, dehydrated, whole, cut-up, or mashed. The five subgroups of vegetables are: dark green vegetables (such as broccoli, spinach, and watercress), orange vegetables (like carrots and pumpkins), dry beans and peas (tofu, lentils, navy beans, etc.), starchy vegetables (corn, green peas, and potatoes), and other vegetables (such as artichokes, okra, and onions).

Fruits make up the red slice of the food pyramid. Like vegetables, you should be sure to eat a variety of fruit, choosing from fruits that are fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. Make sure to moderate your intake of fruit juices. Only actual fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group, and many fruit juices that are not 100% fruit are packed with unneeded sugars. Some fruits that are commonly eaten include avocados, apples, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, lemons, watermelons, oranges, peaches, and pears.

Oils and Fats
The thin yellow slice of the food pyramid denotes oils and fats. The US government recommends that you make sure that most of your fat sources derive from fish, nuts, and vegetable oils. You should also be sure to limit your intake of solid fats like butter and lard.

Fats that are liquid at room temperature are oils. These come from a variety of plants and fish. A few common oils include canola oil, corn oil, olive oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil. Many foods are naturally high in oils -- nuts, olives, some fish, and avocados are all good examples of this. The majority of oils are high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats and low in saturated fats, and oils from plan sources do not contain any cholesterol.

Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature, such as butter. These fats come from many animal foods and can be made from vegetable oils if they are hydrogenized. Common solid fats include butter, beef fat, chicken fat, pork fat, stick margarine, and shortening.

Milk products comprise the blue section of the pyramid. Be sure to supplement your diet with calcium rich foods that are low-fat or fat-free. If you are lactose intolerant, there are also many lactose-free products and calcium choices for you to choose from. These can include hard cheeses as well as yogurt.

This food group encompasses all fluid milk products as well as many foods that are made from milk. However, these foods and milk products must retain their calcium content to be considered part of this food group. Foods like cream cheese, cream, and butter are not part of the milk group even though they derive from milk because their calcium content is low. Commonly eaten foods from this group include: milk and lactose free milk, yogurt, ice cream, hard natural cheeses like cheddar and swiss, soft cheeses like ricotta and cottage cheese, and processed cheese like American cheese.

Meat and Beans
The relatively thin purple line of the pyramid represents meat and beans. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends going lean on protein. This means you should keep portion sizes in mind and choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry. As with vegetables and fruits, be sure to vary your choices of foods in this group and include fish, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds.

The foods included in this group are all foods made from meat, poultry, fish, dry beans or peas, eggs, nuts, and seeds. Dry beans and peas are part of the vegetable group and the meat and beans group. Most meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat. Since fish, seeds, and nuts contain healthy oils, you should choose these foods frequently over meat and poultry.

For more information on the USDA and the new food pyramid, click here.