Any fifth grader could tell you what the food pyramid is, but would his version be the same as yours? From the "Basic Seven" to the "Basic Four," the USDA has revised its recommendations several times since its inception in 1917. Find out if your version is up to snuff.

You may be familiar with the food groups or the food pyramid you learned about in school. In 2011, however, the food pyramid as everyone knew it changed. It's no longer the classic triangle with foods to minimize at the top and foods to maximize on the bottom or the pyramid with the stick man walking up the side steps. The new food pyramid is round and is called "My Plate," a colorful representation of what your plate should look like at every meal.

You may be wondering, why the change? After all, the food pyramid has been around for decades. Doesn't suddenly changing the guidelines and its shape confuse everyone? Actually, the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) nutritional guide has changed several times since its debut nearly 100 years ago. Each change reflected not only current nutritional research, but also the nation's social and economic trends.

A History of Nutritional Guides

The USDA's original nutrition guide, established in 1916, was based on five food groups. During the Depression, however, the number of food groups increased to 12. This doesn't mean more foods were created. Instead, fruits and vegetables were broken down into multiple categories, each with its own daily recommendation, to serve as a buying guide for a poorer nation. In the '40's, the food groups were consolidated, first to seven, then to four. Baby Boomers may remember the "Basic Four"--milk, proteins, grains, and fruits/vegetables--which was the guideline from the mid-'50's until the late '70's. Generation X and Y will be most familiar with the "Food Pyramid," which separated fruits from vegetables and also included fats and oils. The "Food Pyramid" had been the standard recommendation for nearly 30 years before "My Plate" recently came onto the scene.

At first glance, these nutritional guides seem drastically different from one another. Despite appearances, however, each has included the same general foods and all of the USDA's guides to date have emphasized choosing a variety of foods to maximize nutrients in your diet. Each update reflects current health research as it relates to diet. For example, two recent trends include increasing fruit and vegetable intake and changing from refined to whole grains. Both of these recommendations are based on research that shows that diet may influence risk factors for many chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Introducing My Plate

When you look at the USDA's "My Plate," you get a visual of your daily recommended intake in a familiar setup: a plate. Half of the plate contains fruits and vegetables, a quarter comes from grains, and another quarter from proteins. A small circle to the side of the plate, where a glass of milk might be, represents dairy products. Getting the right amount of nutrition is simple: make your own plate look like "My Plate."

In addition, the USDA's new model offers some general guidelines aimed at improving dietary health, including:

  • Eating less overall
  • Getting half of your grains from whole grain sources
  • Changing your dairy selections to skim/one percent or non-fat
  • Cutting out excess sodium, fats, and sugars

Will this be the last food guideline issued by the FDA? Probably not. It does, however, give the current population an easy guideline to follow for preparing a healthy meal.