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USDA Food Guide Pyramid

The food Guide Pyramid developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is largely used to determine the amount of different foods one should consume in their daily diet.

The key to a healthy diet is eating a balance of foods throughout the day and throughout the week.

The pyramid places foods into six groups showing how many servings for each group every individual should eat each day.

Starting from the bottom , base your diet on 6-11 servings of bread, cereal ,rice and pasta with 3-5 servings from the vegetable group and 2-4 servings from the fruit group . A daily consumption of 2-3 servings of milk ,yogurt and cheese products balanced with 2-3 servings of meat, poultry, fish , dry beans, eggs and nuts will be sufficient .At the top end lie fats , oils and sweets which should be sparingly used .(Information source : U.S. Department of Agriculture/ U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

Eat more servings of food at the bottom of the pyramid and fewer of the foods at the top. Eating so many servings from each group may seem like a lot , but serving size is small – for e.g. a single carrot or a cup of pasta is one serving.

MEDITERRANEAN Food Guide Pyramid

This pyramid, representing a healthy, traditional Mediterranean diet, is based on the dietary traditions of Crete, much of the rest of Greece and southern Italy circa 1960, structured in light of current nutrition research. The selection of these regions and this time period as a basis for the design follows from three considerations:

  • Recognition that the rates of chronic diseases were among the lowest in the world and adult life expectancy was among the highest for these populations at that time, even though medical services were limited;
  • Availability of data describing the character of food consumption patterns of the areas at that time; and
  • The convergence of the dietary patterns revealed by these data and our current understanding of optimal nutrition based on epidemiological studies and clinical trials worldwide.

Variations of this diet have traditionally existed in other parts of Italy, parts of Spain and Portugal, southern France, parts of North Africa (especially Morocco and Tunisia), parts of Turkey, other parts of the Balkan region, as well as parts of the Middle East (especially Lebanon and Syria). The diet is closely tied traditionally to areas of olive oil cultivation in the Mediterranean region.

Given these carefully-defined parameters of geography and time, the phrase traditional Mediterranean diet is used here as shorthand for the healthy traditional diets of these regions at that time.

The design of the pyramid is not based solely on either the weight or the percentage of energy (calories) that foods account for in the diet, but on a blend of these that is meant to give relative proportions and a general sense of frequency of servings, as well as an indication of which foods to favor in a healthy Mediterranean-style diet. The pyramid describes a diet for most healthy adults. Whether changes would need to be made for children, women in the reproductive years, and other special population groups is an issue that needs further consideration.

A principal objective of this graphic illustration is to foster a dialogue within the international scientific, public health, food and agricultural, governmental and other communities as to what specific elements and configuration of the traditional diets of the Mediterranean should be regarded as healthful.

This pyramid was the first in a series in development to illustrate geographically the healthy traditional food and dietary patterns of various cultures and regions of the world. This initiative is an outgrowth of a multiyear conference series, “Public Health Implications of Traditional Diets,” jointly organized by Harvard School of Public Health, a United Nations World Health Organization/Food and Agriculture Organization (WHO/FAO) Collaborating Center, and Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust. These pyramids, taken as a collection, offer substantive refinements of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Guide Pyramid, refinements that reflect the current state of clinical and epidemiological research worldwide and our understanding of what constitutes optimal human nutrition status.

Diet Characteristics

Dietary data from those parts of the Mediterranean region that in the recent past enjoyed the lowest recorded rates of chronic diseases and the highest adult life expectancy show a pattern like the one illustrated in the list below. The healthfulness of this pattern is corroborated by epidemiological and experimental nutrition research. The average amounts given are in most cases intentionally nonspecific, since variation is known to have been considerable within this pattern. The historical pattern includes the following (with several parenthetical notes adding contemporary public health perspective):

  1. An abundance of food from plant sources, including fruits and vegetables, potatoes, breads and grains, beans, nuts, and seeds;
  2. Emphasis on a variety of minimally processed and, wherever possible, seasonally fresh and locally grown foods (which often maximizes the health-promoting micronutrient and antioxidant content of these foods);
  3. Olive oil as the principal fat, replacing other fats and oils (including butter and margarine);
  4. Total fat ranging from less than 25 percent to over 35 percent of energy, with saturated fat no more than 7 to 8 percent of energy (calories);
  5. Daily consumption of low to moderate amounts of cheese and yogurt (low-fat and non fat versions may be preferable);
  6. Weekly consumption of low to moderate amounts of fish and poultry (recent research suggests that fish be somewhat favored over poultry); from zero to four eggs per week (including those used in cooking and baking);
  7. Fresh fruit as the typical daily dessert; sweets with a significant amount of sugar (often as honey) and saturated fat consumed not more than a few times per week;
  8. Red meat a few times per month (recent research suggests that if red meat is eaten, its consumption should be limited to a maximum of 12 to 16 ounces {340 to 450 grams} per month; where the flavor is acceptable, lean versions may be preferable);
  9. Regular physical activity at a level which promotes a healthy weight, fitness and well-being; and
  10. Moderate consumption of wine, normally with meals; about one to two glasses per day for men and one glass per day for women (from a contemporary public health perspective, wine should be considered optional and avoided when consumption would put the individual or others at risk.)

Special thanks to: Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust

VEGETARIAN Food Guide Pyramid

Eggs, Sweets: Pie, Egg, Custard, Ice Cream, Cake, Cookie

Egg Whites, Soy Milks, Dairy: Egg White, Cheese (dairy & soy), Yogurt, Milk

Nuts, Seeds: Pine, Walnut, Pistachio, Brazil, Pecan, Almond, Sesame, Cashew, Pumpkin, Hazelnut, Macadamia

Plant, Oils: Corn, Canola, Avocado, Olive, Soybean, Safflower, Peanut, Other Nut & Seed Oil

Whole Grains: Oats, Wheat, Rice, Buckwheat, Flax, Bulgur, Quinoa, Amaranth, Seitan, Millet, Barley, Whole Grain Bread, Rye, Pita, Tortilla, Rice Cakes, Couscous, Noodles, Kasha, Pasta, Corn

Fruits, Vegetables: Fig, Grape, Raisin, Pear, Avocado, Chile, Mushroom, Herb, Tomato, Kale, Orange, Broccoli, Collards, Kiwi, Melon, Chard, Spice, Okra, Apple, Sweet Potato, Banana, Pepper, Asparagus, Cucumber, Manioc, Potato, Lemon Grass, Plum, Cassava, Onion, Cherry, Guava, Carrot, Cabbage, Squash, Leek, Egg Plant, Celery

Legumes (Soy, Beans, Peanuts and other Legumes): Soy, Peanut, Red Bean, Lentil, Pea, Kidney Bean, Tempeh, Tofu, Black-Eyed Pea, Dried Pea, Soy Flour, Textured Vegetable Protein, Adzuki Bean, Navy Bean, Miso, Pinto Bean, Split Pea, Lima Bean, Chick Pea, Mung Bean, Black Bean

Daily Exercise: walking, house cleaning, running, soccer, tennis, golf, swimming, hiking, scuba diving, basketball, baseball, football, skiing, surfing, yard work, rollerblading, dancing, weight lifting, love-making

The Vegetarian Diet Pyramid

The pyramid that represents a traditional healthy vegetarian diet incorporates these principles:

  • Consistency with patterns of eating of other healthy populations of the world;
  • Availability of data describing the character of food consumption patterns of these populations; and
  • The convergence of dietary patterns revealed by these data with our current understanding of optimal nutrition based on epidemiological studies and clinical trials worldwide.

Variations of this traditional healthy vegetarian diet exist throughout the world, particularly in parts of North America, Europe, South America, and most notably, Asia.

Given these carefully-defined parameters, the phrase traditional healthy vegetarian diet is used here to represent the healthy traditional ovo-lacto vegetarian diets of these regions and peoples.

The design of the The Traditional Healthy Vegetarian Diet Pyramid is not based solely on either the weight or the percentage of energy (calories) that foods account for in the diet. It represents a blend of these that gives relative proportions and a general sense of frequency of servings, as well as an indication of which foods to favor in a healthy vegetarian diet.

The Vegetarian Diet Pyramid describes a diet for most healthy adults. Adjustments need to be made for children, women in their reproductive years, and other special population groups.

For persons who wish to improve their diet, this model provides a highly palatable, healthful framework for change.

Equally positive results can be obtained either by entirely adopting a vegetarian diet, or by alternating meals based on this vegetarian model with meals inspired by healthful dietary traditions of other cultures in other parts of the world, such as the Mediterranean, Asian, and Latin American diet models. Evidence is clear that people enjoy the foods of other cultures, and partake of these foods to enhance and augment their knowledge and understanding of different cultures.

This food guide pyramid is the fourth in a series that has been developed during the past few years to illustrate graphically the healthy traditional food and dietary patterns of various cultures and regions of the world. This initiative is a result of a multi-year conference series, Public Health Implications of Traditional Diets, jointly organized by Harvard School of Public Health and Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust.

It is an element of the Cultural Models for Healthy Eating project, a long-term Oldways educational program. These pyramids, taken as a group, offer substantive refinements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Guide Pyramid, refinements that reflect the current state of clinical and epidemiological research worldwide and our understanding of what constitutes optimal human nutrition status.

Diet Characteristics

Dietary data from vegetarians across the world that enjoyed the lowest recorded rates of chronic diseases and the highest adult life expectancy show a pattern similar to the one illustrated in the list below. The healthfulness of this pattern is corroborated by epidemiological and experimental nutrition.

  1. Multiple daily servings of foods from the three Fruits and Vegetables, Whole Grains, Legumes, and beans mini-pyramids.

  2. Daily servings from the three Nuts and Seeds, Plant Oils, and Egg Whites, Soy Milks and Dairy mini-pyramids.

  3. Occasional or small-quantity servings from the Eggs and Sweets mini-pyramid.

  4. Attention to consuming a variety of foods from all seven mini-pyramids.

  5. Daily consumption of enough water throughout the day to assure good health.

  6. Regular physical activity at a level which promotes healthy weight, fitness, and well-being.

  7. Reliance upon whole foods and minimally processed foods in preference to highly-processed foods.

  8. Moderate regular intake of alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer or spirits (optional).

  9. Daily consumption of unrefined plant oils.

  10. Dietary supplements as necessary, based upon factors such as age, sex, and lifestyle, with special attention to those avoiding dairy and/or eggs (Vitamins D and B12).

What exactly is a healthful diet, and can a vegetarian diet be classified as such? According to the 1995 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, healthful diets contain the amounts of essential nutrients and energy needed to prevent nutritional deficiencies and excesses. Healthful diets also provide the right balance of carbohydrate, fat and protein to reduce risks for chronic diseases, and they are obtained from a variety of foods that are available, affordable and enjoyable. Despite the endorsement of vegetarian diets by the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines, many myths concerning various aspects of vegetarian diets still exist.

The Protein Myth

The myth that the nine essential amino acids cannot be obtained without incorporating meat into the diet is gradually diminishing. People are quickly learning that they can easily combine a variety of grains and vegetables to ensure that all nine amino acids are obtained in adequate amounts. In fact, according to articles in the May 1994 Supplement American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, plant protein foods contribute approximately 65 percent of the per capita supply of protein on a worldwide basis.

The Diet of No Taste

Contrary to the wide-spread belief that a vegetarian diet must be monotonous and devoid of taste, a vegetarian meals are very delicious and exciting, especially when several varieties of grains, fruits and vegetables are combined. A meal that removes meat from the plate and leaves only an unseasoned baked potato and a poorly-prepared salad may well be dull in flavor. However, when people discover and learn to experiment with the wide array of spices and herbs readily available for their pantry shelves, the combinations of flavors and tastes are endless, and vegetarian cooking becomes a culinary adventure.

Special thanks to: Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust

ASIAN Food Guide Pyramid

The diets of Asia — the phrase has, somehow, a nice, tidy sound, almost comforting in its suggestions of orderliness. Libraries and government agencies in Asia, we assume, just must have entire buildings full of books with page after page of neat, long rows of tables and charts telling who grew what, who ate what, and who died of what.

But this is not the reality.

The diet and health statistics of some Asian countries and peoples are indeed well and carefully recorded. But the data in others of this vastly diverse, often-tumultuous, and fast-changing half of the world are not readily accessible.

Fortunately, though, general patterns do emerge from available and reliable evidence. Agricultural production is catalogued with increasing sophistication, and agricultural exports and imports are thoroughly documented. Eating in Asia is often closely identified with religious practices or long-standing customs, and the recordation of these strictures is a source of excellent information. The public health agencies of governments of Asian nations, long-concerned with the diseases of malnutrition that accompany scarcity and poverty, are now having to deal with fast-rising rates of the chronic diseases of affluence that accompany a turn to western-type diets richer in saturated fats than the traditional Asian diets. The surveys and cataloguing of this crossover from diseases of famine to diseases of feasting offer rich data sources.

These data make clear that peoples who ate traditional Asian diets and were not malnourished had, in general, low rates of the chronic diseases that now plague western populations and are beginning to alarm public health officials in Asian countries.

The speakers, presenters and commentators at the 1995 International Conference on the Diets of Asia discussed the indicating data from Asian diet and health statistics in the context of releasing the traditional healthy Asian Diet Pyramid, jointly developed by Oldways and by senior scientists from Harvard School of Public Health, Cornell University and other institutions. This Asian Diet Pyramid is based on a generalized summary of the traditional healthy diets of Asian populations, in the light of current nutrition research.

It is analogous to the official healthy traditional Mediterranean Diet Pyramid that was released three years ago by Oldways and Harvard School of Public Health at an international conference in Cambridge, launching what The Washington Post called “Mediterranean Madness” among food writers, chefs, consumers, and the food industry. There is considerable anticipation that release of the official healthy traditional Asian Diet Pyramid will stimulate an “Asian Invasion” of American food pages, restaurant tables and family shopping lists by healthy, tasty Asian foods.

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, and the basic premises of the Asian Diet Pyramid, have received strong international support from leading nutrition scientists and medical specialists as useful alternatives to the 1992 U.S. Food Guide Pyramid. For example, the Food Guide Pyramid lumps some animal and plant foods together in a single group, while the Mediterranean and Asian Pyramids carefully distinguish between plant and animal foods. This central difference has drawn wide support to these traditional Mediterranean and Asian diet pyramids, because it clarifies nutrition guidance for consumers in a vital area.

As with any highly complex situation, there is the need to establish a level playing field of commonly-accepted data. One way to begin this process is to present data for review and comment. What follows is a beginning.

Rice provides 25 to 80 percent of the calories in the daily diet of 2.7 billion Asians, or half the world’s population. Last year rice harvested around the globe amounted to 520 million metric tons, nearly all for human consumption (350 of those tons were harvested in China, India and Indonesia). The wheat crop was somewhat larger — 560 million tons — but 20 percent of that went to feed livestock; out of 529 million tons of corn, animals got 65 percent. In short, rice is the world’s number one food crop.

As to starch in the rice kernel: the percentage of the starch component amylose in its make-up determines the cooking quality. If it’s low, 10 to 18 percent, the rice will be soft and somewhat sticky, as preferred in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China. If it’s high, 25 to 30 percent, it’ll be hard and fluffy, to the taste of India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. In between tends to be the preference of Southeast Asia — Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia — and the U.S. and Europe. Laos likes it extra low, about 2 percent — very sticky, glutinous, gluey, but every kernel distinct.

Since most rice is eaten in the countries where it’s grown, the amount in world trade is small, only about 4 percent. The biggest exporter is Thailand, with 4.5 million tons a year, number two is the U.S. (2.2 million tons), and third is Vietnam (1.7 million tons).

Rice consumption in the U.S. is rising. While the annual per capita rate is nowhere near those is Asia, it has come up from 14 pounds to 22 in the past decade. That an increasing proportion of the U.S. population is of Asian and Latin American background may have something to do with this. Also, rice has begun to be seen as part of a healthy diet, with gourmet possibilities. (For comparison, the average Burmese eats about 415 pounds of rice per year, the average Thai 329, and the average Chinese, including the wheat-eating northern Chinese, 243 pounds.) — National Geographic Society, May 1994

Over time, traditional regional diets have emerged in India, and these have been based primarily on local agricultural practices, climate, and religious beliefs. Despite many centuries of cultural invasions, traditional diets remained unchanged, although some newer dietary habits were added. Diets were usually carefully prescribed in many parts of India to suit occupation, health and physiological status, and the amount of physical activity. Times for eating were prescribed, overeating was prohibited, and vegetarian diets were recommended. Until recently, locally grown agricultural products have dominated diets in India, thus creating distinct rice-based, wheat-based, and millet-based diets.

During the last three decades, increases in urbanization, and the availability of cafeteria or hotel-based meals in the cities and towns explain the dramatic changes in the long-standing cultural dietary habits. Tea, coffee, soft drinks, and snacks are now also consumed widely among both the middle-income and the poorer segments of the population. Smoking and alcohol consumption have increased in many population groups. Physical exercise has decreased among the urban populations, contributing to obesity.

Major differences are now emerging between the health patterns of urban and rural areas in the developing world. Statistics used for the disease patterns of the developing world markedly underestimate the current impact of cardiovascular disease and cancers in urban communities in Africa, Asia, the eastern Mediterranean region, and Latin America. Large increases in the urban population are expected, especially in developing countries, and, with these, a deterioration in many aspects of the nutritional quality of food is likely. This suggests that there is an urgent need to rethink national agricultural and food policies for urban as well as rural communities, before governments in developing countries are overwhelmed by the demands for diagnosis and management of diseases that can now be linked to current and projected dietary changes. — Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Disease, World Health Organization, 1990

The dietary pattern of the Chinese population has changed (over the last twenty years). People’s diets have become more westernized, especially in larger and medium sized cities.

The disease pattern in China is shifting towards that in affluent societies; the diseases of poverty are decreasing and the diseases of affluence are observed to be increasing. Based on the estimation of the Ministry of Public Health, cancer, cerebrovascular disease, and ischemic heart disease are now the three leading causes of death.

A recognition of trends toward the westernization of the diet in some city populations has led to the formulation of policies to encourage maintenance of the traditional Chinese dietary pattern in which plant food constitutes the main body of the diet with moderate amount of animal food, and an increase in the variety of food.

China is making a big effort to promote a more healthy diet at the national level. The program, approved by the State Council in February, 1993, aims to regulate food production and supply at the national level, maintain the basic pattern of the Chinese diet and absorb useful information provided by other countries. — X.S. Chen and K.Y. Ge, Nutrition Transition in China, In Proceedings, XV International Congress of Nutrition

The foods of Asia — exciting, aromatic, mysterious, captivating.


Because they were designed that way.

Over many centuries, they became as much a part of the culture and traditions of Asians as did pagodas and mysticism.

The eight flavors that Chinese cooks must balance; the five flavors blended in Thai cooking; the deft use of aromatics in Indian cooking; the balance of cooked, uncooked, and barely cooked foods in Japanese cuisine; the nuoc mam fish sauce in Vietnam; and the stunning adaptations of all of these in Hong Kong.

Crispy-skinned Peking duck … exquisitely seasoned shrimp, fish and shellfish in Hong Kong … the gorgeous sushi and sashimi of Kyoto and Tokyo … parades of trolleys filled with dim sum … soothing, aromatic sobu noodles steeping in a broth of lemongrass with a kick of spicy pepper … symbolic and extravagant “food as art” in formal Chinese banquets … a magnificent Indonesian Rijsttafel … steaming Mongolia hotpots … the dizzying variety of flavors and shapes of bread from the wheat-growing regions of India’s north … delicate pad thai noodles … rices — steamed, curried, fried, boiled … Vietnamese spring rolls, with fresh vegetables, shrimp, chicken and cilantro wrapped in crisp rice paper.

Nutrition science is now discovering the reasons why these traditional cuisines are healthier than “modern” food.

Special thanks to: Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust

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