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The new Food Pyramid: What the stripes mean

Hot on the heels of new Recommended Daily Allowances comes a new Food Pyramid. Phil ‘The Food Pharoah’ Lempert offers a 101.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled its new “food pyramid” yesterday, replacing the old version with a new, vertically striped edition that gives specific advice about how much and what kinds of foods the average person should eat each day.

In essence, the single food pyramid has been replaced by a dozen versions customized to people’s individual health situations.

The premise for the new system is that individuals will log on to a new USDA website, , enter their age, sex and physical activity and get a somewhat personalized “food pyramid.” (That is, of course, for the people who have Internet access, something that those who probably need the information the most may well not have.)

The “central” pyramid, which acts as a rough guide to the individualized pyramids, has six vertical strips, each one representing various food groups. These colored bands get progressively wider at the base.

Here’s what they mean:

The orange stripeThis represents grains, with the recommendation that people should “eat at least three ounces of whole grain bread, cereal, crackers, rice, or pasta every day,” with half of all grains consumed recommended to be whole grains. The latest edition of the government’s Recommended Daily Allowance, released a few months ago, particularly emphasized consumption of whole grains.

The green stripeThis is for vegetables, with the recommendation that people eat more dark-green and orange vegetables, as well as more dry beans and peas. The guidelines recommend 2.5 cups of vegetables per day for people eating 2,000 calories a day, with higher or lower amounts depending on calorie intake.

The red stripeThis is for fruits, broken apart for the first time from veggies. The USDA suggests eating two cups a day of a variety of fruits, whether fresh, frozen, canned or dried (but to “go easy on fruit juices”).

The blue stripeThis represents dairy, with the USDA recommending that people consume three cups a day of low-fat or fat-free products, and that if they happen to be dairy-intolerant, to find other sources for calcium.

The yellow stripeThis (very thin) stripe is for oils, with the recommendation that “most of your fat sources come from fish, nuts and vegetable oils,” and that consumers “limit solid fats like butter, stick margarine, shortening and lard.”

The purple stripeThe final stripe (also thin) is for meats and beans. The USDA suggests that people choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry, and that these items be baked, broiled or grilled.

Each of these categories includes more specific information about how much of each item can be reasonably consumed in a given day, as well as using cups as a measurement instead of the whole “servings,” which most people didn’t understand.

The new pyramid also includes a figure walking up steps to remind us that exercise is an important component to health and nutrition.

For more on the new Food Guide Pyramid — as well as guidance on reading food labels — tune in Monday, April 25, to the “Today” show to hear Phil’s special report.

Phil Lempert is food editor of the “Today” show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to