New Food Guide Shows Steps to a Healthier You

Although many thought USDA would do away with the traditional food guide pyramid, it's actually been made more three dimensional with a focus on exercise. Jacqui Fatka

Published on: Apr 19, 2005

There's been a lot of speculation about what USDA's new food guide pyramid would look like. But today the USDA unveiled the new educational tool on becoming healthier as a three-dimensional pyramid with different colors representing food groups and steps to emphasize the need for exercise in conjunction with a healthy diet.

Called MyPyramid, the new educational tool for encouraging consumers to lead a healthier lifestyle, is more individualized than the previous food guide pyramid that was introduced in 1992. Consumers can visit to find a personalized way of maintaining body weight.

Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns explains that the former pyramid was a two-dimensional look at health, when we really live in a three-dimensional world. The steps add the additional dimension, which is more central to our message than ever before, he explains.


MyPyramid represents food categories with colors, and the proportions of the bands are wider for those that require more foods. Orange is for grain, of which half should be whole grain. Green is for vegetable, especially orange and green vegetables. Red is for fruit. Blue is for milk products, especially those that are low in fat. Purple is lean meats and poultry. While the thin yellow line is for oil, fats and excess sugars to indicate to choose carefully.

MyPyramid illustrates:

  • Personalization, demonstrated by the MyPyramid Web site. To find a personalized recommendation of the kinds and amounts of food to eat each day, go to
  • Gradual improvement, encouraged by the slogan, "Steps to a Healthier You." It suggests that individuals can benefit from taking small steps to improve their diet and lifestyle each day.
  • Physical activity, represented by the steps and the person climbing them, as a reminder of the importance of daily physical activity.
  • Variety, symbolized by the six color bands representing the five food groups of MyPyramid and oils. Foods from all groups are needed each day for good health.
  • Moderation, represented by the narrowing of each food group from bottom to top. The wider base stands for foods with little or no solid fats, added sugars, or caloric sweeteners. These should be selected more often to get the most nutrition from calories consumed.
  • Proportionality, shown by the different widths of the food group bands. The widths suggest how much food a person should choose from each group. The widths are just a general guide, not exact proportions. Check for the amount that is right for you.

Industry mixed with new approach

Cal Dooley, President and CEO of the Food Products Association, says, "FPA and its member companies are committed to helping consumers understand how to use the nutrition labels on food products – in concert with MyPyramid and the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans – to help make food choices that will create healthful diets and lifestyles."

"Consumers need to understand how to put dietary guidance messages, such as those contained in MyPyramid, into daily practice," explains Dooley. For example, most consumers should increase their intake of fruits and vegetables. Consumers need to know that canned, frozen and dried fruits and vegetables, as well as fruit juices and juice-containing beverages, can play an important role in ensuring adequate fruit and vegetable intake. The same applies to consumers availing themselves of the wide variety of whole grain options available, as they move to include more whole grain products in their diets.

Johanns stressed that the MyPyramid is not a diet, but a lifestyle approach at good health. Mary K. Young, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association executive director of nutrition, says this is good news since the tool is not about diets or unrealistic recommendations. "MyPyramid is about making smarter choices within and among all food groups and eating for nutrients first, while balancing caloric needs and regular physical activity," she says.

During a media session, Johanns, formerly the governor of Nebraska, was asked if 7 ounces of Nebraska steak was too little. He emphasized that he's always enjoyed a variety of foods, and even if individuals splurge once in awhile, extra exercise can help burning more calories.

NCBA also took the opportunity to stress the positive health attributes of lean beef cuts. Young explains that a 3-ounce serving of lean beef is an excellent source of five nutrients (protein, zinc, vitamin B12, selenium and phosphorus), and a good source of four nutrients (niacin, vitamin B6, iron and riboflavin) – while contributing less than 10% of calories to a 2,000 calorie diet. Beef’s combination of nutrients can play a powerful role in many issues facing Americans today – from fueling physical activity and helping manage weight, to developing cognitive skills and aging vibrantly.

"Lean beef can easily fit within guidelines for a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat," she adds. "Beef is 20% leaner than USDA indicated just 14 years ago, and there are at least 19 beef cuts, including favorites like sirloin, tenderloin and flank steak, that meet government guidelines for lean."

Produce for Better Health Foundation President Dr. Elizabeth Pivonka, Ph.D., R.D., says the new MyPyramid system "misses the mark for most Americans, lacking the big picture focus needed to educate Americans about healthy diet choices. While incorporating fitness components and individual messages is important, it appears the USDA has replaced an American icon with a simple graphic that leaves out real guidance for a nation hungry for direction."

Pivonka says the system lacks the needed emphasis that the guidelines published in January gave to adding fruits and vegetables to diets.