What is the Best Nutrition Guide - Food Pyramid or Plate

Pyramid vs Plate Which is Better?

The USDA Food Pyramid(MyPyramid) has been squashed down onto a plate (MyPlate).

But is MyPlate any better visually as a guide to healthy eating?

Are there better alternatives that will do the job better?

The Food Guidelines image is meant to convey the fundamental principle about what you eat.

This includes the relative proportions of the food types and guidelines about foods to avoid.

But the new MyPlate design falls well short of this primarily because of its design.

We explore what is wrong with it and how to make it better.

What graphic is best in terms of providing the advice for healthy nutrition?

Modified version of the plate encourages smaller portion sizes

What Guide is Best?

The promotional image of the USDA nutrition guidelines have been change once again from the Pyramid to the Plate.

The Food Pyramid nutrition guide has been constantly criticised both for the image used (What other systems use a pyramid?) and for its flawed information base and wrong information it conveys about nutrition and diet.

The Pyramid has been squashed down to the plate (MyPlate). But is it any better? The answer is No! When will the ever learn.

USDA plate is a fuzzy non-symmetrical version of a 'pie diagram'.

You couldn't recreate it on a plate with a pizza cutter, because the sectors do not pass through the centre.

This means that it is very hard judge proportions. There are no percentages for the 'slices'.

Why is it so strange and unconventional - why is the image fuzzy?

Another point is the dairy foods are added as a side serve. Once again this does not work. The guidelines are encouraging people to eat more vegetables and fruit, which are often included in the meal as side serves. While it may be good to suggest that Dairy foods shown be optional to the meal it conveys the message that all side serves should be optional.

The image does not work in terms of proportions as it is hard to judge the relative sizes and how they add up. For example the guidelines suggest that 50-70% of foods should be fruit and vegetables. But this is not immediately obvious from the image.

The images does not make any suggestion about reducing portion sizes - there was a chance to do this (see revised image). The message it conveys is that if you get the proportions right you will have a good diet.

Origins of Food Pyramid
Origins of Food Pyramid. Source: Public Domain

Origins of the Food Pyramid

The original USDA Food Pyramid has been universally criticises as being misleading and conveying the wrong message.

Visually is doesn't work because it implies a foundation of basic foods that is the base of the pyramid.

The concept of a pyramid was pinched from a Swedish idea first developed by Anna Britt Agnsäter in the publication 'KFs: Test kitchen' in 1974.

USDA got the idea when some of its researchers attended a conference in 1988. The Pyramid concept is poor for showing relative proportions and it has not kept up with scientific research on nutrition.

1992 Food Pyramid - one of the first
1992 Food Pyramid - one of the first. Source: Public Domain

The Food Pyramid - 1992

The original food pyramid made various claims that were simply incorrect and misleading:

MyPyramid since replaced by MyPlate as a Government initiative
MyPyramid since replaced by MyPlate as a Government initiative. Source: Public Domain

The MyPyramid design was frankly weird.

The UK's Eat Well Plate
The UK's Eat Well Plate. Source: Public Domain

UK Eatwell Plate

Are there better alternatives? Yes the British Eatwell Plate (see image) is a much better image and guide. The recommended percentages are:

The guide recommends that you try to get this balance every day, or over several days or a week.

Based on the recommendations you should eat:


The Eatwell Plate is a much better image as it conveys a simpler message and gives a better indication of proportions.

Current Version of MyPLate - USDA with additional images

Current version of MyPlate by the USDA
Current version of MyPlate by the USDA. Source: USDA
MyPlate Image 1 by the USDA
MyPlate Image 1 by the USDA. Source: USDA
MyPlate Image 2 by the USDA
MyPlate Image 2 by the USDA. Source: USDA
MyPlate Image 3 by the USDA
MyPlate Image 3 by the USDA. Source: USDA