Food Guide Pyramid

The Food Guide Pyramid was updated in 2005, in keeping with the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and taking into consideration the new Dietary Reference Intakes for vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients (like protein, carbohydrate, and fat).  According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the latest Pyramid was designed to improve overall health and to focus on a person’s total diet—not just the foundational nutrients they might need.

Unfortunately, as with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the primary health focus of the latest Pyramid is weight control.  It was designed to be “balanced in essential nutrients while also specifying limits on other food components such as fats, cholesterol, and calories.”  It was also designed to “focus on creating new food intake patterns” in individuals based upon estimated energy requirements for males and females of different ages and activity levels.

Although maintaining our healthy, natural body weight is an important aspect of well-being, a weight-control orientation to nutrition is problematic for a variety of reasons, the primary one being that when weight control and calories are the major focus in our relationship with food or physical activity, they tend to overshadow everything else.  Lots of us stop thinking about balance, moderation, and variety—the time-tested guarantors of healthy living—and start thinking in black and white. (One survey reported that 70% of Americans think of food in terms of “good” and “bad.”)

The new emphasis on weight control runs the risk of actually obscuring more useful approaches to creating healthful habits with eating and activity.  Of equally great concern is the possibility that it may promote a higher degree of conflict around eating, physical activity, and body image for some people.  Disordered eating and compulsive exercise are serious issues for both men and women on many college campuses, and many college-aged women in particular, have inadequate intakes of calcium, iron, and other important nutrients, often as a result of trying to limit the caloric intake of their diets (For further discussion of the problems inherent in weight-control-oriented lifestyle recommendations, as well as alternative paradigms for health promotion, go to our page on the Dietary Guidelines).

It seems clear that the latest Pyramid is focused on preventing dietary excess.  But for college students who are often still growing, who may be much more active, and whose lifestyles are much more varied than the rest of the general population, the new Pyramid may make it more difficult for them to know how to be adequately nourished.  For that reason, it is important that Brown students use the following dietary recommendations with the intention of modifying them to suit their own, optimal eating patterns.  This is particularly true where suggested numbers of servings for a given food group are concerned, since the general recommendations for males and females of a certain age were calculated to reflect the lower end of the caloric range.

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Grains (Bread, Cereal, Rice, Pasta, etc.)

This is an important group in the Pyramid, because it provides carbohydrates, the primary source of fuel for the body.  The Pyramid separates grains into two groups:

  • Whole grains, which contain the entire grain kernel—bran, germ, and endosperm.  Whole grains also contain the fiber and B vitamins that make this food group so rich nutritionally.
  • Refined grains, in which the bran and germ are removed.  Refined grains lose the fiber, iron, and many of the B vitamins in the grain.  As a result, most refined grains have been enriched; certain B vitamins and iron have been added back in to make them more nutritionally adequate.

It is recommended that 50% of a person’s daily grain servings come from whole grains.  Rather than creating a focus on “good grains” and “bad grains,” we suggest that you aim for having lots of variety in your grain choices for optimal nutrition and pleasure.   For adults 19 to 30 years old, women are recommended to have (a minimum of) 7 “ounce equivalents.”  Men are recommended to have 8.  Examples of ounce equivalents for grains are:

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal
  • 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta, or couscous
  • 5 crackers


Vegetables are a terrific source of vitamins and minerals, particularly when you try to add as much color as possible to your plate.  Vegetables are also high in fiber.  The Pyramid breaks vegetables into five different categories.  Women are encouraged to get 2 1/2 cups per day of vegetables; men are encouraged to get 3.  Examples of a cup of vegetables for the different groups are:

Dark Green Leafy Vegetables

  • 1 cup of raw broccoli, or 3, 5-inch spears
  • 2 cups of raw spinach or 1 cup of cooked spinach
  • 2 cups of dark green lettuce

Orange Vegetables

  • 1 cup of raw or cooked carrots
  • 1 cup mashed or 1 large baked sweet potato
  • 1 cup cooked butternut squash

Starchy Vegetables

  • 1 cup of corn
  • 1 cup of peas
  • 1 medium, 3-inch potato

Dried Beans and peas

  • 1 cup of chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, or pinto beans
  • 1 cup of lentils
  • 1 cup of tofu

Other Vegetables

  • 1  cup of cauliflower, green beans, zucchini, or cabbage
  • 1 cup of chopped tomato

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Fruits, like vegetables, are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  They are also an excellent source of carbohydrate.  Both men and women are encouraged to have 2 cups per day.  Examples of a cup of fruit include:

  • 1 small apple
  • 1 large banana
  • 1 cup of melon
  • 1 cup of grapes
  • 1 medium grapefruit
  • 1 large orange, peach, or pear
  • 1 cup of berries
  • 8 oz. of 100% fruit juice

Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese

This food group is the most dependable source of calcium in your diet.  Adequate intake of calcium during adolescence and early adulthood increases the likelihood of optimal bone density for both men and women, offering protection against osteoporosis and bone fractures.  We recommend that you take a calcium supplement (with added vitamin D to help you absorb the calcium), and then get the recommended 3 servings a day of calcium-rich foods.  Calcium supplements are available at the Health Services pharmacy.

If you have an intolerance to regular milk, you can use low-lactose or non-lactose milk products, or a calcium-fortified soy product (be sure it has added vitamin D).  People with lactose intolerance may be able to handle small amounts of dairy foods, and may do particularly well with yogurt, since the lactose in it has already been partially broken down.  Taking lactase-containing tablets (such as Lactaid) just before a meal or snack with dairy products, may allow you to enjoy a slice of pizza or an ice cream cone without feeling sick afterwards.  Examples of a 1 cup serving include:

  • 1 cup of milk or yogurt (or soy substitute)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 oz. of cheese
  • 1/3 cup of shredded cheese
  • 2 slices of American cheese
  • 2 cups of cottage cheese
  • 1 cup of pudding
  • 1 cup of frozen yogurt
  • 1 1/2 cups of ice cream

Meat and Beans

These food groups are rich in protein, and can also be rich sources of iron and other minerals.

Adult women are encouraged to have 5 1/2 “ounce equivalents,” and men are encouraged to have 6 1/2.  Examples of ounce equivalents for these groups include:

  • 1 oz. of cooked beef, poultry, pork, or fish.  (A 3 oz. portion would be about the size of a deck of cards, or a small can of tuna)
  • 1 typical sandwich-slice of beef, turkey, ham, etc.
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup of cooked beans or lentils
  • 1/4 cup of tofu
  • 1 oz. of tempeh
  • 2 Tablespoons of hummus
  • 1/2 oz. of nuts: 12 almonds, 7 walnut halves
  • 1/2 oz. of seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon of peanut butter

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Although the Pyramid’s visual depiction of this food group suggests that consumers focus on limiting types and amounts, it is absolutely necessary to eat some fat in order to maintain energy and health.  In addition to providing the longest-lasting source of dietary energy, fats are involved in transport of vitamins, the composition of hormones, and wrapping the brain and nerves.  There are essential fatty acids that we can’t get anyplace but from our diets.  For heart health, we suggest that the majority of fat choices come from the monounsaturated fats such as canola oil, olive oil, olives, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, and fats made with olive and canola oils (soft margarines, mayonnaise). Other fats, however, like butter, animal fat, and the tropical oils found in many commercial baked goods (palm, palm kernel, and coconut oil) can also be part of a healthy diet when used less frequently and in small amounts.  The Pyramid recommends that adult women consume (a minimum of) 6 teaspoons of oil.  Men are recommended to consume 7.  Examples of a teaspoon serving of oil include:

  • 1 teaspoon of oil
  • 1 teaspoon of a soft margarine
  • 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise
  • 1 Tablespoon of salad dressing
  • 4 large olives
  • ~ 1/4 of an avocado
  • 1/2 Tablespoon of peanut butter
  • 1 oz. of nuts or seeds = 3 teaspoons of oil

Sweets and Added Sugars

Sweets and added sugars have been removed from the Pyramid and put in the category referred to as “discretionary calories.”  Although it is true that sweets provide lots of simple carbohydrate with few vitamins or minerals, these foods offer pleasure—an important aspect of healthy eating—as well as an additional source of calories and carbohydrate, which may be helpful to people (like athletes) who have higher energy needs. 

Links you can use

Food and Nutrition Information Center  
This center is part of the USDA and provides links to diverse food pyramids. Some of these eating styles include: Latin American, Asian, Arabic, Russian, and Native American. There is also a version of the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, for those looking for a low fat version. Vegetarians will find several Pyramids to suit their needs.

Food Guide Pyramid

The American Dietetic Association 
Daily Tips and Feature Topics often have articles of interest. By sending an email, you can ask questions directly of registered dietitians in your area. Nutrition Network is a national referral service for registered dietitians in their areas nutrition. Award-winning web site.

The Nutrition section of WebMD includes a food and nutrition newsletter, a diet and fitness organizer and healthy recipes.

Vegetarian Resource Group  
This reliable source on vegetarian diets was given the top rating by the Tufts University Nutrition Navigator, a nutrition web site rating guide. Recipes, games and information on nutrients such as protein, calcium and iron included.

The Nutritional Analysis Tool  
Sponsored by the University of Illinois, NAT can analyze the nutrients in your diet. Site includes an energy calculator and educational resources.

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