Is It Time For A Three Pyramid Food Chart?

Three Pyramid Food Chart

On a very basic level, choosing what foods we eat in a day are some of the most import decisions we make.  Too often, though, these decisions fall prey to other priorities — time, energy, availability, mood. . .  So we wind up making less than ideal choices on our food consumption.

Every five years Health and Human Services release their recommended food guidelines.  The 2015 guidelines are due soon (yes, in 2016).  The USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion will then promptly release their latest food chart “to help consumers make better choices” based on those guidelines.

Past Food Pyramids

Most of us can still remember the original stacked “Eating Right Pyramid” chart which was started in 1992.  It was instantly recognizable by its wide grain based dietary recommendations and small pinnacle of fats and sweets.  In 2005 Eating Right was morphed into a vertically proportioned “my food pyramid.”


pyramid to mypyramid

MyPyramid turned out to be a major failure in helping people to figure out what proportion of their diet should come from each category and which foods should take priority.  Basically, everything looked about the same, except for a skinny strip of golden — fats?  The upsides of the vertical pyramid (big one in my books) are that it pairs food with exercise and seems, for the first time, to convey that not all foods within a category were created dietarily equal.  Though you had no way of knowing what those foods were.

myplate_blueMove To Food Plate

In 2010 USDA’s abandoned the ancient food pyramid altogether and introduced us to a place-setting food chart called “MyPlate”.   A chart so simple it tells us nothing about food choices, proportionally or priorities.

Fruits, Vegetables, Grain and Protein politely share a plate in a color-coordinated balance that is even crossed paired for aesthetics.  Dairy is quarantined in a glass.  And weirdly Fats and Sweets are dropped from the charts altogether.  They aren’t even given a place on the empty fork.  (Did they think people suddenly stop eating them??)

The last five years have seen a lot of changes in food research, attitudes and  consumption.  Much of it recognizing the interactions between our bodies and our foods are much more complex and health dependent than we’ve historically treated them.  I have no idea if or how the new US guidelines and chart will reflect those changes, but call me skeptical.

Fortunately, I stumbled across a wonderful three pyramid food chart created by Steve Morris over at BlogBloggerBloggest.  It gives the right kind of visual aids to determine where various foods fall on the chart and what our options are to making good, better and best choices.  It also helps to remind us that individual foods rarely fall into just one category, and hence, they sometimes present overlapping health hazards or benefits.

Three Pyramid Food Chart

Three Pyramid Food Chart
*Click on image for larger view. (Pulses are certain legumes like pinto beans, navy beans, dry peas and lentils.)

I do have a couple of minor suggestions for the chart.

  1. Give Fats and Proteins proportionally narrower pyramids.  Using three equal sized pyramids would suggest that Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein should be consumed in equal proportions.
  2. Add “Fresh” before “Fruit” and “Vegetables.”  Canned is a considerably less green choice for many because of added salt, sugar, preservatives.

All and all, the Three Pyramid Food Chart is a handy, well-thought-out and information rich tool to remind us that eating healthy is about balancing our options and looking for opportunities to shift to better, healthier foods choices.  Well done, Steve!

I wonder if the USDA’s 2016 food chart will be as helpful?




  1. Linda, thank you so much for sharing my food pyramids! Your ideas are good ones, and maybe I will update the diagram at some point in the future – especially if new research changes any of the recommendations. Please note that I am not a doctor, just someone who is very interested in healthy eating and likes to read all the latest research and guidelines. I think that my 3 food pyramids are probably too nerdy and detailed for most people, but as you say, simple messages tend to convey very little.


    1. Steve, I don’t think your chart is too nerdy. Change is difficult. Everyone does better if they have a concrete idea of what they are shooting for and why. And in your post you did an excellent job of laying out why various foods are where they are on the chart.


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