Nutrition Column – Take Steps to a Healthier Life with Mypyramid

The Food Guide Pyramid, first released in 1992, has a new look, new steps and a new name! Gone is the one-size-fits-all approach recommending such things as eating six to 11 servings of breads and cereals a day. In its place is a new graphic, titled "MyPyramid: Steps to a Healthier You," and an interactive Web site that lets you create and track your own personal pyramid plan.

Like the old Food Guide Pyramid, food is still categorized into food groups. Each of the rainbow-colored bands running up MyPyramid represents a food group, something that may not be readily apparent because the bands are not labeled. However, going from left to right, the colors represent grains, vegetables, fruits, oils, milk, meat and beans.

Also missing on the new MyPyramid graphic are the number of servings you should eat from each food group. In its place is an interactive Web site at that allows you to create and track your own personal pyramid plan, based on your age, gender and activity level. One of the most useful components of this Web site is the diet analysis program that allows you to see how well your own diet stacks up against your personalized nutrient and food group recommendations.

The person climbing the steps up the side of the pyramid represents YOU being active. For the first time, USDA Food Guidance includes recommendations for physical activity. This is in response to the increase in couch potato syndrome – or sedentary lifestyles – in America. It is recommended that everyone include at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week (above and beyond normal daily activity unless your job includes lots of vigorous physical activity) to lower your risk of such chronic diseases as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. Even more exercise is recommended daily to manage weight, prevent unhealthy weight gain and sustain weight loss. The steps also symbolize taking one step at a time. If 30 minutes of exercise is too much, start out with a 10-minute walk to the mailbox each day and build from there.

Moderation is still an important concept in MyPyramid. The food group triangles are wider at the bottom and become narrower as they rise to the tip of the pyramid for a reason. The wider base represents foods with little or no solid fats or added sugar and is wider to show that you should choose these foods more often. The narrow top area represents foods within each group that contain more added sugars and solid fats. These foods should be consumed less often. Using vegetables as an example, you might find plain, steamed broccoli at the base. Moving up might be broccoli with lemon juice and olive oil, then broccoli with cheese sauce, finally deep fried, breaded broccoli with cheese sauce. For grains, cooked, plain oatmeal would be located at the bottom, then sweetened instant oatmeal with raisins, oatmeal cookies, and at the top, oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips and frosting!

Proportionality and variety are other important concepts. Variety is represented by the six different food groups and proportionality by the different widths of each food group band. The widest band is grains, then vegetables and milk. Fruit is wider than meat and beans. Oils are in the skinniest band. The widths suggest how much food a person should choose from each food group, but are just a general guide. The actual amount you need from each food group depends on your own calorie needs, which are affected by your age, build, gender and activity level. Generally, for a 2,000-calorie diet (sedentary boys ages 13-14, moderately active teenage girls, sedentary young women, moderately active adult women and sedentary elderly men) the daily recommendations are 6 ounces of grains, 21/2 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruits, 3 cups from the milk group and 51/2 ounces from the meat and beans group, with 6 teaspoons of oils used as flavoring.

Mixing up the different types of foods you eat within each food group makes eating more fun and improves variety.

To discover your own personal pyramid, go to

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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension