The food pyramid is formally known as the Improved American Food Guide Pyramid. It was published in 1992 by the United States Department of Agriculture. Basically, the food pyramid is an outline of what to eat each day based on six different food categories. The categories include grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, oils, and meat and beans. The pyramid is published every five years and an update is expected in 2010.
Grains are foods made from wheat, barley, oats or rice. The grains category of the food pyramid is divided into two groups, including whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains have the entire grain kernel, which means it includes the bran, germ and endosperm. Some examples are oatmeal, brown rice and whole-wheat flour. Refined grains are milled, which means they go through a process that takes out the bran and germ. Grains receive a finer texture, although fiber, iron and B vitamins are removed. Some examples include white bread, white rice and white flour. The USDA recommends six to 11 servings of grains per day.
Vegetables and vegetable juices are included in the vegetable group. Vegetables can be frozen, fresh, canned, raw or cooked. Vegetables are divided into five groups depending on nutrient content. The groups include dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, dry beans and peas, starchy vegetables and other vegetables. Some examples of dark green vegetables are broccoli, kale, spinach and collard greens. Examples of orange vegetables are carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato and butternut squash. Examples of dry beans and peas are pinto beans, soy beans, tofu, kidney beans and black beans. Starchy vegetables include potatoes, corn, green beans and lima beans. Examples of other vegetables include onions, cucumbers, celery, beets and asparagus. The USDA recommends three to five servings of vegetables per day.
Fruits and fruit juices are included in the fruit group. Fruit can be frozen, canned, fresh or dried; however, fruits lose nutrients when they are processed. Fruits are low in fat and calories and a natural source of vitamins, fiber and sugar. Some examples of fruits are apples, bananas, grapes, lemons, limes and mangoes. Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries and raspberries are also examples of fruit. The USDA recommends two to four servings of fruits per day.
Milk products, along with other products made with milk, are included in the milk group. Foods that are made from milk must retain their calcium content to be counted in the group. Foods made from milk that have no calcium, including cream cheese, butter and cream, are not in the milk group. Some examples of milk products are cheese, yogurt, milk and milk-based desserts. The USDA recommends three cups of milk products per day.
The oils group includes some plants and fish. Oils, like vegetable oil, are fats that are liquid at room temperature. More oils include olive oil, corn oil, canola oil and soy bean oil. Foods high in oils include avocados, olives, nuts and fish. Other examples include mayonnaise, soft margarine and salad dressing. The USDA recommends moderation when choosing from the oils group, as too much can cause health problems.
The meat and beans group includes all foods made from meat, fish, poultry, dry beans, eggs, nuts and seeds. Meat choices, along with poultry choices, should be low-fat. Because fish, seeds and nuts have healthy oils, they should be chosen over meat. Specific foods in the meat and beans group include beef, ham, pork, chicken, turkey, eggs, lima beans, kidney beans, almonds, cashews, tuna and trout. The USDA recommends three to five servings of meat and beans per day.