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The End of the Pyramid Scheme: The Rise of MyPlate

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The End of the Pyramid Scheme: The Rise of MyPlate

Back in the mid-20th century, the act of balancing nutrition was in a state of arrested infancy. This was a time where processed foods, fast foods, and general foods of convenience were rapidly pushing out the square meals of yesterday. There arose a need, particularly for young America, to establish some sort of nutritional guideline and the ever-popular “Four Basic Food Groups” were created, and they were as follows:

(1) Meats, poultry, fish, dry beans and peas, eggs, and nuts
(2) Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt;
(3) Grains
(4) Fruits and vegetables.
Below is a graphic (circa 1956) that demonstrates this concept for otherwise clueless children:

Then in 1992 the United States government realized some of the apparent limitations of these four basics, and erected the iconic Food Guide Pyramid (see graphic below):

This pyramid was highly successful at relentlessly bewildering generations of children and is likely the cause of the current obesity epidemic (OK, that last part is wholly inaccurate, but it is somewhat satisfying to pretend like the mythic pyramid is the root of all nutritional evil). The Food Guide Pyramid was graphically confounding and gave young and old the impression that they needed to have a firm grasp of what constitutes a serving size in order to understand good and sensible nutrition. Also, fats, oils, and sweets were oddly placed at the top of the pyramid, giving the false impression that these nutritional voids were essential toppings for the previous four (now five) basic food groups (and why where they included in the pyramid at all?). Then in 2005, the Food Pyramid was updated to be something less than a hierarchy and more of a fractioned pie chart with a little runner guy trying to climb the thing, all of which did nothing but confound eaters more than ever, and render the Pyramid more obsolete than ever (see below):

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Read more: Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Fitness, Following Food, Food, General Health, , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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2:35PM PDT on Oct 1, 2015

Thank you Eric.

11:45AM PDT on Apr 9, 2013

Did anyone ever really understand what the food pyramid, and then My Pyramid were about? I could grasp the 7 basic food groups. The food pyramid blurred it, and the "Improvement" totally confused it. The plate is still annoyingly obtuse.

4:26PM PST on Nov 18, 2011


11:20AM PDT on Aug 5, 2011

I had never heard of Joel Fuhrman's food pyramid, so I googled it. (The chart itself is at
This pyramid is fantastic! I honestly don't ever expect to eat in accordance with that pyramid, but it's a lot better goal than the UDSA "guides"! Thank you, Adam K.

2:41AM PDT on Aug 2, 2011

both suggestions are good. the plate gives a symbolic aspect ,as if you are eating out of a plate . it gives a mental picture so kids can easily remember....but the pyramid gives info of how much % to eat and the pictures of those foods which are in a particular category .... i think both are fine.

1:03PM PDT on Jun 25, 2011

I'd have to go with Joel Fuhrman's food pyramid which has at its base fruit and vegetables, then beans, then nuts and seeds, then whole grains, then optional. If people don't want to follow the food advice, they don't have to, but at least the science is good and they will live if they follow the advice. As it stands they won't live if they follow the advice. Now you tell me what that constitutes in the law, giving people bad food advice that they die if they follow it.

11:49PM PDT on Jun 14, 2011

This is an improvement on the pyramid because it is graphically intuitive.

5:33PM PDT on Jun 14, 2011

the plate is deffinitely a big improvement, but i think people need to realize that they're not going to get all the imformation they need about eating healthy from a graphic. you really need to know potion sizes (which you can find on food labels), what's best for you personally, and a bunch of other things.
that said my plate is deffinitely a more helpful guide than the previous pyramids, especially if you visit the website.

8:43PM PDT on Jun 11, 2011

Appreciate the update!

7:11PM PDT on Jun 11, 2011

As it states in the article, I like that it uses "proteins" instead of "meats". This plate is a redo much needed.
@Annemarie W, thanks for that website. I live on the Pacific Coast in Central America and in our little town, we are seeing the effects of overfishing as well as complete disregard for fishing laws. I'll pass the site on.

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