A More Diverse Food Pyramid

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Obesity is a world problem and as of 2006, one in ten adults worldwide were considered obese. I suppose this should not be surprising since the appeal of the American diet for good and for bad has spread around the world.

For those that come to live in the U.S., learning to blend favorite foods from the country of origin with newfound American fare can be difficult. Dietitians are finding wonderful teaching assistance from reshaped food pyramids that focus on healthy eating guidelines for Asian, Latino, and Mediterranean eating preferences.

Oldways Preservation Trust is "dedicated to changing the way people eat through practical and positive programs grounded in science and tradition." Their core health promotion programs include The Whole Grains Council, The Latino Nutrition Coalition and The Mediterranean Foods Alliance. Oldways has worked with several other organizations to reshape the US Food Pyramid for other cultural eating preferences. Here are some of the differences.

In 1993 a Mediterranean Diet Pyramid was created and was most recently updated in 2008. At the base of this pyramid, you find all plant based foods, which indicate they should be the foundation of the meal just as being physically active is the foundation for healthy living. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds and legumes provide a great deal of whole food choices. Olive oil, herbs, and spices are also recommended as part of the base because of their ability to increase palatability as well as having health promoting attributes. The next levels provide separations between various animal based protein sources. Fish and shellfish selected several times a week provide omega-3 benefits to Mediterranean style eating. Tuna, herring, salmon, or shrimp would typically not be batter coated or fried but grilled, broiled or poached instead. Cheeses and yogurts are regular selections and for some low-fat sources are included daily. Eggs and poultry are typically recommended choices to include a couple times a week and other meat options and sweets are choices recommended less often. Drinking water is recommended and wine frequently is as well.

The Asian Diet Pyramid is very similar to the Mediterranean pyramid and was the second developed at an International Conference and introduced in 1995. Many Asian diet principles are rooted in religious practices as well as long-standing customs so each region has its own distinct cooking styles and flavors. Rice provides a basis for most Asian diets so it and other grains such as noodles, millet, and corn make up the base of the Asian pyramid. Those along with fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, and nuts as well as vegetable oils make up daily meal and snack selections. Animal sources of protein like fish and shellfish are common in areas with extensive coastlines and so is dairy especially in India and they are recommended to include several times a week in the Asian eating style. Poultry, eggs and sweets are more popular in some areas compared to others but are recommended for weekly selection in many areas while other meat sources are only consumed on an infrequent basis. Daily physical activity is recommended and so are six glasses of water or tea. Sake, wine, or beers are also included in Asian eating but moderation is recommended.

The Latin American Diet Pyramid was the third pyramid developed and it was first introduced in 1996. This pyramid is very similiar to the Mediterranean pyramid and also places importance on daily physical activity. Plant based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, tubers, pasta, beans and nuts are also recognized as the base of the diet and are recommended to be the basis of every meal. The Latin American diet includes fish, shellfish, plant oils, dairy and poultry choices on a daily basis with other meats, eggs and sweets only selected on a weekly basis. Water is also recommended and alcohol intake is recognized but encouraged only in moderation.

While there are some small differences between these pyramids, grains, fruits and vegetables do provide the basis of all three. However, in contrast to the most recent U.S. Food Guide Pyramid, they also recognize other plant based items such as nuts and seeds as a basis of the diet as well. The new updated Dietary Guidelines are due later this year and with it most likely an updated Food Guide Pyramid. It will be interesting to see if it looks more like these other three pyramids with an increased emphasis on a plant-based diet.

Did you know there were other versions of the food guide pyramid? How do you expect the new My Pyramid 2010 version to look compared to the others?

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:) Report
KHALIA2 9/14/2019
Great info! Thanks! Report
KHALIA2 9/14/2019
Interesting! Report
I really liked the Maya Angelo poem! Thank you so much! Report
You know what? It never occured to me that there might be so many different types of food pyramids, and I find them all to be fascinating. I can't wait to learn more about them. Report
Interesting, I never thought about other pyramids. Report
Interesting! I didn't know there were other food pyramids. Thanks for the info! Report
I did not know that there were other food pyramids. Report
Thanks Samcakes for the info on vegan eating. I always wondered about that one. I love soy milk, and hate that it counts as a bean! Oh well. Report
How do we know which pyramid to go by? I sort of like knowing "the rules", but I guess having only one set of rules may be too restrictive. Report
I had heard there were other pyramids, but hadn't really looked into them. I especially like the Mediterranean Pyramid, since it puts produce on an even keel with grains and puts red meat at the top. I'll definitely be looking into this more! Thanks for a great article! Report
I didn't know this, but it is helpful to know! Report
Thanks for sharing these! I have heard of different pyramids, but never seen them. I am a firm believer that the US food pyramid has been developed to support the various food manufacturers in this country. Although there have been changes in this pyramid recently, the food that we consume in the US is still heavily led by the companies who are making money off of our consumption, not our health. It is up to us as individuals to make smart choices for our own health and not allow those that do not have our best interest to sway us. By sharing these other pyramids, we can see that there are other opinions of what is best for human health and consider the health results that other countries have in comparison to ours. Report
Don't forget the various vegetarian food pyramids!
I did know this and look them up from time to time Report
I had heard about the meditarian one but never the others, thanks for the info! Report
Just like human beings, all the pyramids have commonality, not just differences: less red meats, more vegetables and fruit, limited sweets and fats, healthy oils, whole grains, vegetable proteins. You could add one for traditional "soul" food too (anyone got one to add to the mix?).

I didn't know these pyramids existed, though I have read about the dietary choices for groups in other formats. As others noted, they're a little dated, but basically ok when we apply common sense and new knowledge to them.

As a Mexican-American, I've known that many of my "traditional" foods are healthy but that portion sizes, preparation methods and variety must be paid attention to. Especially we are reminded to eat more vegetables and fruits. Lucky for me in California we have lots of access to them. There's a huge difference between eating steamed corn tortillas and tamales (both corn based but tamales with large amounts of fat in the dough) or beans cooked and eaten from the pot, not refried and topped with cheese. Avocados, cucumbers, jicama, mangos, pineapple, bananas, chiles, tomatoes, melons, squash, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, citrus fruit. Yum!

These days I avoid Mexican rice (though it's tasty, it's not whole grain); white flour tortillas (look for or make whole wheat ones); fried shell tacos (make soft ones); large portions of beef and pork (I still eat them but in small amounts) and tortilla chips (no one ever served them at home, they were always a restaurant thing anyway). I also avoid whole-fat dairy products.

P.S. As a Mexican AMERICAN, some of my traditional foods also include hot dogs, PBJ sandwiches, meat loaf, cookies, pizza, spaghetti, etc etc. :-) Report
I don't think anyone pays attention. We had this in our classroom when I was in school in the 60's. Report
I know that we have the "Canada Food Guide" here in Canada which is technically the pyramid, although it is not always shown in a triangle format. However, I had no idea that there are so many pyramids out there. It stands to reason, though. Other cultures have food preferences so different from those in North America, of course they have their own. It also surprises me, though, that these others pre-date the North American ones. Report
Learn something new every day with Spark, I had no idea there were other food pyramids.
Interesting to compare the others to the standard. Report
I have alway thought that the Standard American Diet was the worst in view of other country. Nothing yet has changed or altered my opinion. So take the abbreviation S.A.D. and thats the kind of diet most Americans eat. So SAD. Report
I had no idea there were different pyramids for different cultures. On the one hand, if we are all pretty much the same in our physical make-ups, it doesn't make sense to have differences. On the other hand, different cultures have regional foods that aren't always available just anywhere.

Even with the current food pyramid, I find myself relying on what was around in 1995. In it, starchy (usually high fiber) veggies and whole grains made up the base with fruits and veggies next, followed by protein sources (stressing lean proteins), then fats (which included most nuts). It's similar to what we have now, but it seems there was better definition. I do like that nuts and healthy fats are encouraged more now than then.

While the pyramid continues to change, one thing remains the same - fruits, veggies and grains continue to make up the majority of what we should eat. Report
In the first days in this country I looked at a food pyramid posted in the Drs office and I was blown away at the way it was. I actually wrote letters telling them i felt there was too much emphasis on what we brits call the starchies. I was taught to look carefully at starches in menus and when i saw people eating BREAD, corn and Potatoes in the same meal I knew the original was of no help to our family. I applauded when the new version came on the scene and these versions are of interest. I believe that untill people learn for themselves what Nutrition really is they will constantly turn to the fads out there. Those fads make millionaires not a healthy population.
It seems people look out for their Motor Vehicles better than they are able to look out for their bodies.
After all cars come with owners Instruction manuals. Unfortunately we are even more complex than any car and we have no personal manuals to speak of. Plus we would all need our own individual manuals. That is what SPARK has provided for me. Pat in Maine. Report
I had no idea about other food pyramids. Great info. Thank you. Report
CINCYDORA is quite correct. Part of the reason grains are the basis of our food pyramid is because of the power of lobbyists. As I mentioned earlier, grains should be an important part of our daily intake. However, what should be more important are fresh fruits and veggies.

Where is the spinach lobby when you need them ? On the plus side, changes are being made. More and more people are eating more veggies and they are being more mindful of what they are putting into their bodies. Thus the reason for the growth of markets like Whole Foods or Trader Joes.

Really fascinating, Tanya! After following the links to each pyramid, I definitely favor the Mediterranean: It's the biggest! :) Report
Interesting! Report
Thanks for sharing this info. It's new to me. Report
Did not know! Report
Hmmm. Just as I don't want my nutritional advice to be slanted by food industry interest groups, I don't want it slanted by cultural, national or religious institutions either. Of course, the more options available WITHIN that framework, the better. Report
Yes I knew about them from something I read somewhere else. Why would a country whose people have a completely different diet than we have here in America have the same food pyamid. Made complete sence to me. I notice those others seem a bit more healthier than ours. Report
I never knew about the other food pyramids. I feel we could definately learn a thing or two from these other lifestyles. Thanks for the good information. Report
Wow, I never really thought about there being more versions of the food pyramid but I guess it just makes sense. I'm going to try each for a little variety. Report
No I didn't know there were other food pyramids and that was really neat to see!!!! Report
Great info Report
This pyramid reminds me of the "Fit or Fat" book from years past. It's a nice visual and let's us know that no matter what the time line, it's all about eating right and exercising. The new one may include more organic, green and natural products. Thanx for the reminder. Report
I never knew there were other food pyramids. However, I helped my son with a nutrition class last year. One of the questions was "The Food Pyramid can easily be adapted to other cuisines" (or something like that - True or False). He answered False, and this was wrong. Report
I never knew that these other food pyramids existed either. I am a BIG fan of the Primal/Paleo Nutritional Pyramid though. That's a good one that's not included in this article Report
I agree with both ARCHIMEDESII and TwoOfThree. I had never heard of the other food pyramids and think fruits and veggies are the base for a healthier diet than grains. I know my eating habits are better if I build my meals that way instead of starting with grain. And I do think the food pyramids say more about who the most powerful lobbyists are than what is actually important for our health. But then again I'm generally cynical about the motivations of our elected officials. Report
I never knew other pyramids existed either. Report
How funny, I never knew there were multiple food pyramids! Report
I knew there were other food pyramids. I agree, the current US pyramid needs to be changed. My issue with the food pyramid is that it still uses "grains" as the bedrock of our nutrition. Don't get me wrong, whole wheat bread, pasta and cereals are extremely important. I eat them regularly. However, my personal opinion is that fruits and veggies should be the bedrock of our pyramid.

We all know the importance of eating our veggies and yet, the USDA has always favored grains over leafy greens. This is where I agree with the other food pyramids from Latin America, Asia and Europe... we need to emphasize the importance of eating more plant based foods.

Very helpful information. I have avoided the USDA pyramid because of concerns about beef and other industry controls over content. I will visit these sites. Report
I never knew about other food pyramids for Latin, Asian, or Mediterranean lifestyles and I feel that the American food pyramid needs some serious adjustment. If I had to choose one pyramid to live by it would most likely be the Mediterranean style, with the focus being more on fruits and vegetables and less on grains. I also like how the other pyramids put physical activity as the base of a good life. Report
The pyramids generally reflect the relative strengths of the lobbying powers. Report
I didn't know of the other pyramids. I like the Mediterranian pyramid, except that I don't think I could eat meat that rarely. "Meats and Sweets" say "less often" which I guess means "less often than every two days." Report
I had always been familiar with the standard american pyramid, but a couple of the others mentioned sound rather good. I will research further on the mediterranean one. Report
Pyramids are a new one on me. In the UK the Food Standards Agency publicises the 'eatwell plate': http://www.food.gov.uk/images/pagef
I didn't know there were other food pyramids. I the food pyramids were easier to understand than the US pyramid. The Long strips on the US pyramid looks like they are giving you license to eat more. I am going to relook at the others and use them instead of the US pyramid. Report
I found the Mediterranean pyramid the easy and the most logical to use for our family. I have printed it out to post on the fridge Report