Updated September 9, 2020We need certain nutrients on a daily basis to maintain proper physical and mental health. However, many people are not aware of the impact food can have on the body. In an effort to educate the public and encourage them to make healthy choices, the United States Department of Agriculture began issuing food recommendations back in 1894.As society changes and new medical research is introduced, the USDA changes its dietary guidelines to offer the most up to date information possible. Since 1894, the public has seen several different versions of the USDA food guidelines. There have also been many updates to the infographics that accompany their suggestions in an effort to capture the attention of more people and make the information more accessible.Throughout this article, we break down the various changes to the USDA’s food guidelines. We offer an in-depth look at how serving sizes, food groups, and infographics have changed over the years. Looking at the history of the USDA food guidelines can show us how our understanding of nutrition has evolved over time and led to the recommendations we have today.1894: Farmer’s BulletinThroughout the late 1880s and early 20th century, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published the Farmer’s Bulletin, which covered topics related to rural living, such as sustainable agriculture and plant disease. In 1894, they used this publication to promote the first nationwide food recommendations. However, these suggestions were only for adult men and only included carbohydrates, protein, fat, and minerals.1916 to 1930: Food for Young Children and How to Select FoodsIn 1916, nutritionist Caroline Hunt wrote the USDA’s first official food guide for kids, Food for Young Children. This guide focused on “protective foods” and included suggestions for the following five food groups:Grains and cerealsDairy, meat, and eggsFruits and vegetablesFats, such as butter, margarine, and olive oilSweets and sugary foodsBy 1917, the USDA also published a guide for adults, called How to Select Foods. These suggestions also focused on the five food groups listed above.Throughout the 1930s, the USDA responded to societal changes brought on by the Great Depression by offering four different food plans based on income. These new guidelines were designed to help Americans shop on a tight budget while still selecting nutrient-rich foods.1940: The Basic SevenIn an effort to help Americans cope with wartime food rations and limited supplies, the USDA began their campaign for the Basic Seven in 1943. This guide included a recommended daily number of servings for each of the seven food groups. However, it did not offer specific serving sizes.The slogan “Eat the Basic 7 Every Day” was included on the infographic, as well as a bright, colorful wheel divided into seven wedges. Each wedge represented one of the following food groups:Green and yellow vegetablesOranges, tomatoes, and grapefruitsPotatoes and other vegetables and fruitsMilk and milk productsMeat, poultry, fish, or eggsBread, flour, and cerealsButter and fortified margarineThis guide was not perfect and failed to include guidance on fat and sugar intake.The 1940s also saw the introduction of the first recommendations for daily calorie and essential nutrient intake. These suggestions were developed by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences and included the following vitamins and minerals:Vitamin AVitamin DAscorbic Acid (vitamin C)IronCalciumProteinThiaminRiboflavinNiacin1956 to 1970: The Basic FourIn the 1950s, the USDA narrowed the seven basic food groups down to just four. This new model included the following groups:Bread and cereal groupVegetable and fruit groupMeat groupMilk groupWhile the basic four model did include specific amounts for each food group, it did not offer suggestions for fat, sugar, and calorie intake. Although this model was flawed, the USDA continued to offer these suggestions throughout the 1950s, 60s, and much of the 70s.1979: Hassle-Free Food GuideThrough the 1970s, studies began to show high levels of saturated fats, sodium, and harmful cholesterol in the American diet. As a result, the public was becoming more at risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.In an effort to prevent these diseases, the U.S. government began to emphasize the importance of self-control and moderation.In 1977, the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs released the Dietary Goals for the United States. These new guidelines included recommendations for daily intake of carbohydrates, fats, cholesterol, sodium, sugar, and protein.The suggestions proposed by the senate were too complex for the USDA to adopt right away. Therefore, they developed a modified version, called The Hassle-Free Daily Food Guide, which introduced a fifth food category for fats and sweets and emphasized portion control when eating foods from this group.The Hassle-Free infographic includes pictures of the foods in each category arranged in a vertical pattern. Fruits and vegetables were at the top, while fats were at the bottom of the image. Specific amounts needed from each category were listed next to each image.1984: Food Wheel: A Pattern for Daily Food ChoicesBetween 1977 and 1983, the USDA worked toward creating a total diet approach. The goal was to make something that would offer nutrient requirements and tell which foods should be eaten in moderation. In 1984, the Food Wheel: A Pattern for Daily Food Choices was introduced. This wheel included the following five food categories, with each group broken up into calorie levels:Fruits: Divided into citrus, melon, and berries, and other fruits.Breads, Grains, and Cereals: Divided into whole grains and enriched grains, with the emphasis on eating more whole grains.Dairy Products: Cheese, milk, and yogurt made up the whole of this category.Protein: Divided into animal products, nuts, and seeds. Beans and peas were split between the protein and vegetable category.Vegetables: Divided into dark green and deep yellow vegetables. There are also two small sections for starchy vegetables and other vegetables.Although it was not considered an official food category, the Food Wheel has a thin wedge between dairy and protein. This section is meant to emphasize the need for moderation when eating food from these categories.1992: The Food Guide PyramidAfter conducting several studies on the images that were most appealing to the public, the USDA did away with the wheel design and introduced the food pyramid. The 1992 Food Guide Pyramid promoted “variety, moderation, and proportion” and included added fats and sugars throughout all categories.The USDA’s food pyramid illustrates which foods should be limited and which we should eat more of. It also includes the recommended number of servings for each group.The base of the pyramid includes bread, cereal, rice, and pasta (6 to 11 servings). The middle of the pyramid includes vegetables (3 to 5 servings) and fruits (2 to 4 servings). Just below the top of the pyramid is the dairy group (2 to 3 servings) and the animal products, beans, nuts, and seeds category (2 to 3 servings). The tip of the pyramid includes fats, oils, and sweets with the suggestion, “use sparingly.”2005: MyPyramid: Dietary Guidelines for AmericansIn 2005, the USDA introduced MyPyramid which has a similar look to the old food pyramid but with some new updates. By including the word “my” in the title and removing the suggested servings for each category, they emphasize the idea of individualized nutrition based on age and gender, instead of set guidelines that apply to everyone.To promote the importance of physical activity on overall health, the MyPyramid image includes a figure walking up the sides of the pyramid. For the first time, the USDA website began to offer tips for maintaining an active lifestyle.The new food pyramid has vertical wedges for each of the five food categories and a thin strip for oils. This new model no longer includes oils in with fats and sweets. Instead, fats and sweets are broken up into the various categories. Although it is not listed on the infographic, the USDA’s website divides each of the major food groups into 12 calorie levels.2011 to Today: Choose MyPlateTo advance the idea of customized nutrition even further, the USDA created the “MyPlate” concept in 2011. The image of a colorful plate broken up into different sections connects more closely to mealtime. This new image serves as a reminder that healthy eating may look slightly different for each person.The MyPlate model includes five food groups, including fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy. By voting choosemyplate.gov, kids can find interactive games, worksheets, and videos that teach them the importance of nutrition. The USDA website includes dietary guidelines for the following groups:PreschoolersOlder childrenTeenagersCollege studentsAdult menAdult womenPregnant womenOlder adultsVarious professional occupationsChoose MyPlate includes tips for shopping on a budget, how to read the Nutrition Facts Label, and how to select fruits and vegetables that are in season. You can download the MyPlate app to set daily goals and track your eating habits.MyPlate RecommendationsThe new MyPlate guidelines no longer offer general recommendations. Now, suggestions for each of the five food groups are broken down by age and gender. The intention is for each person to use these guidelines to create a plan that works best for them. Below, we outline the USDA’s suggestions for each food group.GrainsThe MyPlate grain guidelines emphasize the difference between whole-grain foods and refined grains. Refined grains only contain the endosperm of the grain kernel, while whole grains contain the entire kernel, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. Some bread and cereal products use refined grains to change the texture of the food and the length of the shelf life. However, doing so removed essential nutrients such as iron, dietary fiber, and vitamin B.To ensure that you are getting plenty of dietary fiber, at least half of the grains you consume should be from whole grains. Avoid refined grains such as white rice and white bread. The following items are healthy and nutritious sources of whole grains:Brown riceOatmealWhole wheat bread or flour (whole wheat flour should be the first item in the ingredient list)Bulgur wheat (cracked wheat)VegetablesThe USDA separates vegetables into five categories—dark green vegetables, red and orange vegetables, starchy vegetables, beans and peas, and “other” vegetables. It is best to consume a variety of vegetables from each category to ensure you get vital vitamins and minerals.In addition to eating raw veggies, you can also roast or sautee them. Canned and frozen vegetables are also a good option when we are pressed for time.FruitsMany nutritionists use the phrase “eat the rainbow” to stress the importance of eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables because the various colors have different nutritional values. For example, red fruits have antioxidants that reduce the risk of developing hypertension and high cholesterol. Blue and purple fruits improve digestion and memory retention. Orange and yellow fruits have high levels of vitamin C, which plays a key role in bone growth.The USDA suggests eating fresh fruit whenever possible, however, you can also eat dried and frozen fruits as well. Fruit juices typically contain added sugar and should only be consumed in moderation.ProteinFoods that fall within the protein category are beans, peas, eggs, meat, processed soy products, seeds, nuts, and poultry. Beans and peas are also considered vegetables, and for vegetarians, they are a good meat substitute. Protein is essential for optimum health, and most Americans actually eat enough or too much. However, most of us should choose less fatty meats and eat red meats in moderation. Try incorporating an extra 8 oz of seafood into your weekly protein intake; a tasty choice is salmon, which has omega 3s.The amount of protein you should consume each day depends on age, gender, and how much you exercise. Athletes typically need more protein than the average person, and they can easily get that extra protein from shakes and smoothies. Start with at least 2 oz per day, but try not to eat more than 6.5 oz per day.DairyDairy products are easy to find, and you can get your daily intake of dairy through milk, yogurt, and cheese. However, milk products that contain very little or no calcium—cream cheese, cream, and butter, to name a few—are not included in the “dairy” category.Most people need about 2-3 cups of dairy every day. Dairy is an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium. If you have a milk allergy, try drinking fortified milk alternatives so you don’t miss out on the key nutrients found in dairy.FiberFiber is essential for a healthy gut, digestion, and heart health. We need about 25-30 grams of fiber per day, and most of that should be from food (not from supplements). Most Americans do not consume enough fiber. You can start by replacing some of your simple carbohydrates with complex carbs: whole wheat bread instead of white bread, brown rice instead of white, and sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes.Beans are an excellent source of fiber and fairly easy to incorporate with any meal; one half-cup serving contains about 7-8 grams of fiber.Of course, vegetables contain lots of fiber along with their other nutritional benefits. Some fiber-rich choices include acorn squash, green peas, collard greens, artichokes, broccoli, and carrots.FatsIt used to be that any food with “fat” in it was deemed unhealthy, but now we know there are different types of fats and they affect our bodies differently. Avoid foods where the fat has been removed and replaced with carbohydrates. This is done to improve the taste, since fat adds flavor, but the added sugar won’t do you any favors. An easy way to abstain from low-fat choices like this is to cut out any processed foods.There are three types of fats: unsaturated (good), saturated (eat in moderation), and trans fats (avoid completely).Unsaturated fat food sources (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats): canola oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fishSaturated fat food sources: red meat, cheese, cream, butter, coconut oil, palm oilTrans fat food sources (also known as hydrogenated oil): mostly in processed foodsNote that trans fats are now banned in the US. In 2015, the FDA ruled they were not safe to eat, giving food processors three years to phase it out of their products. As of June 2018, trans fats do not appear in any foods.To moderate your consumption of saturated fats, replace them with unsaturated fats: instead of cheese, eat some nuts. Instead of red meat, try fish.Frequently Asked QuestionsWhat was before the food pyramid?There were a few food guides before the food pyramid, but the iteration before the Food Pyramid was called “The Basic 7.” Here, foods were divided into seven groups, but the US Department of Agriculture (who made the chart) didn’t provide any serving size suggestions. They emphasized people should eat mostly out of the first three categories, which included some fruits and veggies. Butter was in its own category.When did the USDA change the food pyramid?After 19 years of using the Food Pyramid, the USDA introduced MyPlate in 2011. It is a more individualized guide to eating and nutrition, and pays special attention to portion sizes, which were absent from the Food Pyramid.What year was the first food guide introduced in the U.S.?In 1916, a nutritionist named Caroline Hunt wrote “Food for Young Children” for the USDA. This was the first known food guide in the US.What are the seven food types?The seven food types are carbohydrates, fats, dietary fiber, water, vitamins, proteins, and minerals.Is water a food group?Water is not in its own food group on any official guide, but it is considered a food. Humans cannot survive without water, so take care to drink plenty every day. The rule of thumb is to drink eight 8oz glasses of water every day, but you don’t have to be too strict. Drink when you’re thirsty, and try replacing any soda or sugary beverages with water.ConclusionWe eat and drink every day, often without thinking about what’s in the food we eat. The USDA has released many food guides, and the most recent one, MyPlate, gives us a general idea of foods we should eat as well as how much. Portion sizes are becoming a bigger concern as heart disease and obesity are on the rise, so take care to replace foods high in sugar and saturated fats with healthier options, such as whole grains, raw vegetables, and nuts.This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional. Comments Cancel replyLeave a CommentYour email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * Comment Name Email I agree to the Terms and Conditions of this website.