The U.S. government's food guide pyramid is all about creating a personalized plan to help you make healthy choices, get the most nutrition out of your calories, balance food and physical activity, and stay within your calorie needs.
A Guide to Healthy Living
The pyramid shows food groups as a series of differently sized colored stripes:
- orange for grains
- green for vegetables
- red for fruit
- yellow for oils
- blue for milk, yogurt, and cheese (milk group)
- purple for meats, poultry, fish, dried beans, eggs, and nuts (meat & beans group)
The stripes are different widths to show how much of a person's daily food intake should be made up of that food group. So the orange band is much wider than the yellow one because people need to eat a lot more grains than oils.
How much we eat is tied to how much we exercise. Teens need to eat a variety of foods to get the nutrients that help the body grow. But teens who are very active need additional food so they can fuel their activity levels in addition to their growth. And those who are less active need to eat less food to avoid gaining weight.
The Food Guide Pyramid helps people remember the following key points:
Combine exercise with eating well. The figure climbing stairs at the side of the pyramid reminds us that exercise is an important part of any healthy lifestyle. Regular physical activity benefits every part of our bodies, including the mind. Experts now know that exercise fights off a range of possible health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and even depression. Teens should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day.
Eat a variety of foods. The different color bands in the pyramid send the message that it's important to eat lots of different foods. Not only does eating a variety of foods provide a good balance of nutrients, it also keeps our taste buds entertained!
Eat foods in moderation. The colored bands that show each food group are wider at the bottom of the pyramid than they are at the top. That's a reminder to people that they can eat lots of some foods in each group but that other foods in this group should be limited. Foods at the bottom of each section include those with little or no solid fats and little or no added sugars or sweeteners. So in the fruit food group, people should eat whole, fresh apples more often than apple pie. Likewise, when it comes to the grains food group, a person should choose more whole-grain products, such as whole-wheat pasta instead of regular pasta. Another example is in the milk group, where people should get most of their dairy intake from fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese instead of whole milk, pudding, or ice cream.
Practical Advice on Eating Right and Exercise
Americans are getting heavier and less healthy — kids and teens as well as adults. A lot of this is because we're becoming a nation of couch potatoes. We're spending more time in front of computer screens and TVs than meeting up with friends and playing sports. We're sitting in cars instead of walking or biking to our destinations.
In addition to using the pyramid as a way to remind people to eat right and exercise, the government designed a website, called MyPyramid, to give specific food and exercise guidelines.
At this site, you can get personalized recommendations about which foods to eat and how much — including estimates of the number of calories needed to stay at a healthy weight for your age, gender, and activity level. To create your personal profile, visit the MyPyramid site.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: May 2009