Nutrition 101: Evolution of the Food Pyramid

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” - Hippocrates

One of the most important things that holds influence over your health is the food that you eat. When we’re growing up, we learn about food from our families, school cafeterias, and school health classes. We also form our own relationship with food based on what we’re observing in the relationships that others around us have with food. Many times, all of this information contradicts what the rest of the sources have to tell us about what we should eat, how we should eat, and how we should feel about what we’re eating. This makes it very difficult to truly understand how to eat well, and most of us sail through our teens and 20’s unscathed. Once we begin to get older, however, our bodies can’t handle a lot of the foods that we were eating before. So where do we go from here?

Let’s look at the evolution of the food pyramid, which is how most of us learned about nutrition.


I’m sure this looks familiar to just about everyone.

This was originally made in 1992. This is what our parents based our diets on as children and teens in an effort to eat balanced meals and be the healthiest we could be. Over time, this pyramid has changed, and it’s been confirmed that the food pyramid was heavily influenced by lobbying efforts by the grain industry. Looking even further, it didn’t even promote whole grains, but rather promoted processed refined grains instead.

In 2005, this food pyramid, MyPyramid, was introduced:


This pyramid was similar but with several different important distinctions. They added stairs on the side to symbolize the need for exercise in addition to healthy eating, they also made the categories vertical instead of horizontal which allows you to be more intuitive about what you’re eating and emphasize a greater variety of food being important. This still wasn’t quite right either because its instruction was still too broad.

Next, Michelle Obama, in conjunction with the FDA, introduced the MyPlate model:


This model emphasized serving sizes and allows you to visualize your portion sizes as well as get an understanding of what the most important food groups are. Half of your plate will consist of vegetables, one quarter should be lean protein, and one quarter should be made up of starches/carbs.

From there, individual institutions like Harvard and my alma mater, Bastyr University, began to make their own versions of the healthy plate with more detailed recommendations. The one that I prefer and use myself is the Bastyr Healthy Plate. This one still emphasizes portion sizes on a plate, but adds in “digestives” or probiotic foods, which help to aid in your ability to digest foods and assimilate the nutrients that you’re taking in.

(Vegan and Vegetarian configurations available here.)

So, when you’re planning your next meal, try basing it off of the Bastyr Healthy Plate model:

  • ½ of your plate filled with vegetables of some kind. ( I recommend cooked vegetables, as an acupuncturist, more on this in later blog posts.)

  • A portion of this ½ of the plate should be probiotic rich foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, or lacto-fermented vegetables

  • ¼ of your plate should be filled with protein based on lean meats, legumes, nuts, seeds, or whole grain proteins.

  • ¼ of your plate should be filled with whole grains like rice, quinoa, or oats. Whole grain breads, or pastas, or starchy complex carbs like sweet potatoes, and squash. Also be sure to limit refined grains and starches like white rice, white bread, and pastas.

  • Moderated amounts of healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, and cold pressed oils for use in your baking, salad dressings, etc.

  • Fruits can be used as a healthy snack or dessert choice.

  • Water is very important, so make sure that you’re drinking water throughout the day to stay hydrated.

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