My Plate vs. Food Pyramid

17 April 2024

Generally visuals help us grasp concepts more clearly.  That was the intent in 1992 when the Food Pyramid was introduced by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  It went through some revisions.  Some were helpful; some were not; some were unpopular.

In 2011 MyPlate was presented as an alternative.  Instead of a pyramid, this is a pie chart that resembles a dinner plate showing proportions of food groups.  It emphasized balance rather than calories or quantities.

Food Pyramid

This concept was a base or platform of grains including cereal, rice, and pasta.  It also promoted fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy but recommended only 30% or less in red meat products.

There are six sections to this diagram.  It indicates the amount from each food group that should be eaten on a daily basis.

  • Carbohydrates – 6 to 11 servings daily from whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal. This is an energy source.  Just ask runners or other athletes.
  • Vegetables – 3 to 5 servings daily. Filled with nutrients and fiber, they help combat diseases and promote good gut health.
  • Fruits – 2 to 4 servings a day. Vitamins and minerals are also helpful to keep the body functioning well and healthy.
  • Protein – 2 to 3 servings per day. This can be chicken, fish, tofu, beans, and red meat.  This category makes you feel full and provides long stretches of energy.
  • Dairy – 2 to 3 servings each day. Milk, yogurt, and cheese are the most common choices.  You get calcium, vitamin D, and some protein.
  • Fats, oils, and sweets – no designation of the amount per day. Sugars provide quick, but poor, energy and are often wasted calories.  Good fats and oils are essential for bodily functions including hair and skin.

food pyramid, diet, plate


This version focuses on fruits and vegetables to the point of 50% of your diet.  It also states that half the grains consumed should be whole grains rather than refined.  This would provide more nutrients and fiber.

Instead of six, this concept works around five groups:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Grains
  • Proteins
  • Dairy

It ignores any fats, good or bad.  It also does not fully define protein, which is an element found in many foods, not just meat.  Even grains, milk, and most vegetables contain some amount of protein.  There is also the concern that plant-based proteins are not fully represented.

This model is significantly easier to understand since it is color coded and it works on percentage rather than measurements.  As you can tell, there is an increased emphasis on fruits and vegetables and less on meats (protein) and significantly less focus on grains/carbohydrates.

The theory is that if you serve on a standard nine inch plate and don’t pile the food to the sky, you will be eating a healthy diet.  Of course, there are exceptions for pregnancy and breastfeeding, adolescents, and those with health issues.

Compare and Contrast

Both versions had/have the same goal of healthy eating.  They just took different routes to get there.  The Pyramid focused on number of choices from the various food groups and MyPlate looks at combinations and balance.  Food Pyramid is more detailed but MyPlate is easier to understand.

It is probably impossible to describe all the complexities of healthy eating in a visual, but using the combination of these two graphics should provide an overview of a solid eating plan.  There are also some mantras that give good advice:

  • Eat less but enjoy what you consume.
  • Avoid oversizing portions.
  • Half of the plate in fruits and veggies.
  • Emphasize whole grains.
  • Make milk choices lower fat.
  • Lower sodium intake.
  • Drink water.

If you are concerned about your diet, consult with a nutritionist recommended by your medical team.

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