Development of Alternative Pyramids

Some nutrition and health professionals disagree with the dietary recommendations of the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid. Critics of the Pyramid have expressed various concerns. Some believe that the food guide does not go far enough in emphasizing plant-food consumption, and that there is an overemphasis on foods of animal origin. Another concern is the inclusion of foods that are high in fats and/or sugars within the basic five food groups, which may lead people to maintain high fat and calorie intake. Others have indicated that the Pyramid is not appropriate for use with various ethnic and cultural groups, although this fact was recognized by the nutritionists who developed the Pyramid.

One alternative pyramid is the Traditional Healthy Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, developed by the Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust in cooperation with Harvard School of Public Health and the World Health

The Food Guide Pyramid, last updated in 1992, could be revised for release in 2005. Proposed changes would include more recent nutritional recommendations and may be tailored to specific ages and activity levels to help reverse the nation's trend toward obesity. [EPD Photos. The Gale Group.]

Organization. This Pyramid has an increased emphasis on foods of plant origin and limits red meat consumption to a monthly serving. It recommends daily olive oil consumption, wine "in moderation,"and daily consumption of six glasses of water. The Mediterranean Pyramid is based on a diet that has long been associated with reduced risk for heart disease, though some Americans might find it difficult adapting to such a different eating plan.

Pyramids targeting specific ethnic groups have been developed by a variety of organizations. They include Latin American, Puerto Rican, Asian, Vietnamese, soul food, and vegetarian pyramids, among others. As information emerged about the nutritional needs of older people, the need for a food guide targeted to this growing population became clear. In 1999, nutritionists at Tufts University developed a prototype of a pyramid targeted to persons seventy years of age and older. Several other pyramids for older adults have been developed at other universities since that time. To meet the needs of children, the USDA released the Food Pyramid Guide for Young Children in 1999.

The USDA Food Guide Pyramid reflects a food guide that was designed to meet the nutritional needs, and to promote long-term health, of Americans over the age of two. It supports the goals of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are designed to promote healthy lifestyles and to reduce health risks. The messages of the Food Guide Pyramid are most effective when accompanied by nutrition education to help people make healthful choices from the five food groups. see also Dietary Assessment; Dietary Guidelines; Healthy Eating Index.

Linda Benjamin Bobroff


Insel, Paul; Turner, R. Elaine; and Ross, Don (2001). Nutrition. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Welsh, Susan; Davis, Carole; and Shaw, Anne (1992). "A Brief History of Food Guides in the United States." Nutrition Today 27:6-11.

Internet Resources

Food and Nutrition Information Center. Food Guide Pyramid. Available from <http://>

Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust. "Oldways Healthy Diet Pyramids." Available from <>

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Human Nutrition Information Service. The Food Guide Pyramid. Home and Garden Bulletin Number 252. Available from <http://>

undernutrition: food intake too low to maintain adequate energy expenditure without weight loss chronic: over a long period

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