Healthy Eating Pyramid and Healthy Eating Plate

Expert Answers to Readers’ Questions

What is the difference between the Healthy Eating Pyramid and the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid?

There are a lot of similarities between the Healthy Eating Pyramid and the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. However, the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid is representative of a traditional diet followed by many people in Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Italy, updated in 2008 to reflect new scientific developments. The Healthy Eating Pyramid, also updated in 2008, is based on the most up-to-date research in nutrition and health, and it has a more varied dietary pattern to meet the preferences of different ethnic groups.

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid is rich in vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds, with cheese or yogurt eaten daily in low to moderate amounts. It is low in red meat, with fish encouraged at least twice a week, and with fish, poultry and eggs replacing beef and lamb. The main sources of added fat are olive oil and nuts. Sweets are limited as occasional treats, and fresh fruit is usually served for dessert. Red wine is consumed with meals, in moderation. It also recommends daily physical activity.

The Healthy Eating Pyramid is similar to the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid in that it emphasizes plant foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) and recommends limiting red meat and sweets. It also recommends choosing healthy sources of protein, from plant foods (nuts, seeds, beans and tofu) and from fish, poultry or eggs. Like the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, it is built on a base of daily exercise, emphasizing the importance of weight control. But there are a few specific differences:

  • The Healthy Eating Pyramid has less emphasis on dairy products than the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid does, and it notes that it is fine to obtain calcium and vitamin D from a supplement rather than from dairy.
  • On the Healthy Eating Pyramid, potatoes and refined grains (white rice, white pasta, white bread) join sweets, red meat and butter in the “use sparingly” tip of the pyramid.
  • The Healthy Eating Pyramid allows for more flexibility in the diet, to accommodate cultural food choices. For example, vegans or Asians could use tofu as a protein source. Oils used are more varied, including peanut, sunflower, sesame, soy bean, and canola oil. Alcohol can be consumed from wine, beer, or spirits, as long as it is in moderation.
  • The Healthy Eating Pyramid recommends a daily multivitamin supplement plus extra vitamin D.

To learn more about food pyramids, read the Healthy Eating Pyramid and Healthy Eating Plate.

Now that there’s a new Healthy Eating Plate, will the Healthy Eating Pyramid be going away?

No, the Healthy Eating Pyramid is not going away. Generations of Americans are accustomed to the food pyramid concept so we feel it is important to show how the Healthy Eating Plate connects to the Healthy Eating Pyramid.  In fact, the Healthy Eating Pyramid and the Healthy Eating Plate complement each other. Both emphasize foods that promote good health. And both encourage people to limit or avoid foods and drinks that are harmful, or that provide lots of calories but have little nutritional value.

Consumers can think of the Healthy Eating Pyramid as a grocery list: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy oils, and healthy proteins like nuts, beans, fish, and chicken should make it into the shopping cart every week, along with a little yogurt or milk if desired. Skip the soda and snack food aisle, the deli counter, and the steaks and chops at the butcher counter. The Healthy Eating Pyramid also addresses other aspects of a healthy lifestyle—exercise, weight control, vitamin D and multivitamin supplements, and moderation in alcohol for people who drink—so it’s a useful tool for health professionals and health educators.

Think of the Healthy Eating Plate as a guide to planning a healthy, balanced meal and serving it on a dinner plate—or packing it in a lunch box. Put a copy on the refrigerator at home or at work, to give yourself a visual guide to portioning out a healthy plate, and to remind you to pump up the produce.

To learn more about the new Healthy Eating Plate, visit Healthy Eating Pyramid and Healthy Eating Plate.

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