Misconceptions Regarding the Food Pyramid

In 1992, the United Stated Department of Agriculture, together with nutritionists and scientists, created the Food Pyramid. It is a visual picture of what we are supposed to eat everyday for good health and nutrition. It encourages people to eat a variety of foods and gives guidelines of how many servings per food group is needed. It has been adapted for different ethnic groups. Thus, there is the Mediterranean Food Pyramid and the Hispanic Food Pyramid. Nutritionist Sanirose Orbeta, together with the Gatorade Sports Science Institute Scientific Institute has developed the Asian Food Pyramid.

The Food Pyramid is definitely a much better aid at understanding nutrition than the old Four Basic Food Groups (meat, milk, breads/cereals/rice, and fruits/vegetables). However, it has been my experience that most people have some misconceptions about the Food Pyramid.

Most of these misunderstandings are about the number of servings and the serving sizes. Many people end up eating too much from the starch group (rice, noodles, cereals, etc) or think that they cannot possibly eat that many fruits and vegetables.

Misconception about the number of servings.
The original Food Pyramid lists six to eleven servings for cereals, breads, rice, noodles; two to four servings for fruits; three to five servings for vegetables; two to three servings for beef, pork, fish, chicken, beans, or eggs; and two to three servings for milk and other dairy products. There are no serving suggestions for the food group at the tip of the pyramid (oil, butter, mayonnaise, sweets, cakes, ice cream) except the advice to "eat sparingly".

Many people don't realize that the pyramid is supposed to accommodate the nutritional needs of people of different sizes. A five-foot woman will not need the same number of servings as a six-foot man. That is precisely why a range of servings is given. Some people automatically assume that it is their duty and God-given right to eat all eleven servings of rice and pasta no matter what size they are. Then, they wonder why they are gaining weight!

Misconception about the serving sizes.
By far, this is the area of the greatest misunderstanding. Many people have a preconceived notion in their head about a serving size. They think one serving means the size of whatever plate or bowl they use at home. Therefore, to them, six servings of rice (the low end of the range) mean six big bowls of rice. The actual serving size is half a cup (standard measuring cup).

Serving sizes.
Here are the serving sizes of the Food Pyramid:
One serving of rice, bread, cereal, noodles is equal to 1 slice of bread or cup of cooked cereal, rice or noodles or 1 small hamburger roll or 1 small bagel or 1 tortilla.
One serving of vegetables is equal to cup of cooked or chopped vegetables, 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables, or cup of vegetable juice.
One serving of fruit is equal to 1 medium whole fruit (example: banana, orange, guava) or cup of chopped, canned or cooked fruits or small papaya or cup dried fruits or cup unsweetened fruit juice.
One serving of meat is equal to three ounces of cooked lean meat, fish or poultry or one and a half cups of cooked beans (example: mongo, red beans, white beans). Consider the following as equivalent to one ounce of meat: 1 egg or cup beans or 2 tablespoons peanut butter or cup nuts.
One serving of milk, yogurt, or cheese is equal to 1 cup of milk or 1 cup yogurt or 2 ounces of cheese or 1 cup cottage cheese.

"Eyeballing" portion sizes.
I suggest taking the time to measure or weigh your food just once to get a clear picture in your mind of what three ounces of meat or cup of fruit really look like. However, you may forget and it isn't very practical to walk around with a measuring cup or miniature weighing scale in your bag. People who do so are usually looked upon as being a bit weird, not to mention obsessed.

To help you "eyeball" portion sizes without having to actually measure or weigh your food, here are comparisons with every day objects (culled from different sources like the American Dietetic Association and Weight Watchers, Inc.):

The next time you eat out, take a good hard look at that pasta dish that you are about to wolf down. You may be eating three servings instead of one!

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