The food pyramid and how it works
The U.S. Department of Agriculture published the first food pyramid in 1992, with food groups drawn as horizontal layers from top to bottom. The pyramid was designed to help Americans understand which food groups to focus on for better health. But carbohydrates made up the largest group, and people were encouraged to eat more carbs than other foods. The new food pyramid has vertical stripes of different thicknesses to indicate the relative importance of each food group. The USDA web site has a nutrition tool that allows you to enter your age, sex, and activity level to get the amount you need from each group. Charts at mypyramid.gov also show you serving sizes for meeting these goals.
On the USDA food pyramid, grains are now measured in 1-ounce equivalent servings, and at least half of your allotment needs to be from whole grains. Examples of a 1-ounce equivalent are one slice of whole-wheat bread, a half-cup of cooked brown rice or pasta, and 1 cup of whole-grain breakfast cereal. Refined grain products, like white bread and regular pasta, are measured the same way. In terms of the number of servings, the new food pyramid suggests that girls (ages 9 to 18) and women need between four and six 1-ounce equivalents a day, men and boys (ages 9 to 18) between six and eight, and kids age 8 and younger, three to five. If you have a cup of cereal at breakfast, a sandwich at lunch, and a cup of rice as a side dish with dinner, you’ll have eaten five1-ounce equivalents.
A recent study shows that most people still don’t eat the amount of vegetables they need. The food pyramid now gives recommendations in total cups of vegetables per day — you can spread out the amount you need any way you want across your meals and snacks. Totals are between 2 and 2.5 cups per day for women and girls over the age of 9, 2.5 to 3 cups for men and boys 9 years old and up, and 1 to 1.5 cups for children aged 2 to 8 years old. Children especially should focus on veggies like broccoli and spinach — non-starchy varieties. Twelve baby carrots, a large tomato, and two stalks of celery are each equivalent to 1 cup of veggies. Lettuce is measured differently: Each cup counts as just a half-cup of your vegetable total.