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April 20, 2005 09:22 AM

Broken: New "MyPyramid"

FoodpyramidA New York Times story today reports on the new and improved (well, it's definitely new) food pyramid. At left find the new and old pyramids. Which is clearer? Forget the food-industry lobbying that manipulated the recommendations (or lack thereof) - just look at the information design of these two graphics. Which is clearer to read?

Find more on the new pyramid, at left, at I have to admit, hooking the whole thing on an interactive online "wizard" to guide you through recommendations seems a bit much.

Update May 9, 2005: Also see Slate's article featuring redesigns of the pyramid.


From the little sidebar on the right of the page in the link:

"Amount of moderate or vigorous activity (such as brisk walking, jogging, biking, aerobics, or yard work) you do *in_addition_to_your_normal_daily_routine*, most days." (emphasis added)

If you do it most days, doesn't it become part of your daily routine? I bike to & from work every day. Does that mean that I need to do more exercise in addition to this 1/2 hour (or more, if I go anywhere other than school/work) of biking every day? (that was a rhetorical question, for anyone who's going to comment on my comment. I know what they meant, but they didn't say what they meant) Very broken.

Posted by: anitsirK at April 20, 2005 09:48 AM

Hilarious. It's not even a pyramid any more, just kind of crammed into a triangle shape.

Posted by: E.T. at April 20, 2005 11:07 AM

i need help understanding the new an UNimproved pyramid

Posted by: unkown at April 20, 2005 11:29 AM

Frankly, the legend boxes at the bottom are a better information graphic than the triangle (pyramid?) itself.

The legend clearly shows a proportional relationship betwen the food groups, labels what each block is, and can be understood without significant interpretation.

The rest of the stuff is, as they say, chartjunk.

Posted by: Michael McWatters at April 20, 2005 12:04 PM

If you actually attempt to use the new pyramid, the servers are down.

Posted by: Joshua Wood at April 20, 2005 12:10 PM

the one on the right doesnt really give you any numbers as far as how much to eat. Its not really a pyramid either. The old pyramid atleast gave some ranges on what to eat. I understand that what you eat isnt everything and that exercise is part of it too.

Posted by: Laura at April 20, 2005 12:28 PM

I haven't commented here in a while. Must come up with something pithy to say...

WTF? My tax dollars paid for this?

Posted by: Dave J. at April 20, 2005 12:35 PM

Do they even have just one "sample" pyramid graphic for a pretend someone who's been able to jump through their Java / checklist hoops? I can't get the thing to run, I can't find anything more specific than that goddamned fruity rainbow pyramid of non-value. Though I see the milk lobby is in full flaunt.

Posted by: Cardhouse at April 20, 2005 12:41 PM

Cardhouse and Joshua Wood, I noticed the same issue with their java thing. When you reload the page that fails to come up, it gives you a sample for a 21 year old male.

I'm Canadian. Ours is a rainbow and we only have 4 food groups. It's been the same almost as long as I can remember, and I'm at the point where I can't remember what came before.

(sorry for the long URL)

Posted by: anitsirK at April 20, 2005 01:21 PM

How are people without computers supposed to get at this? I spent a good part of an hour just trying to get ONE version of the pyramid with the accompanying key at the bottom, to load at all. No success. Also, if it's a RAINBOW of colors, is there some special reason that the colors aren't in rainbow order? Too easy to remember? Too gay? It's a sad sad joke: the graphic is bad and the non-functioning web site is worse. While I applaud trying to explain to people that nutritional levels are different, saying "Now we've got twleve pyramids, not just one!" will not appeal to anyone who just wants to go there, print one out and leave.

Posted by: jessamyn at April 20, 2005 02:26 PM

You Americans and your pyramids. We Europeans invented something years before the "Food Pyramid" that apparently works. Why won't you just give in and adopt the chart? This new pyramid is much more like our pie chart, but much more confusing. Our system is much better, thank you very much. Even the Brits have a lower obesity rate than the Americans.

Posted by: European at April 20, 2005 03:59 PM

I think next year the government is just going to say "Screw it" and start subsidizing liposuction.

Posted by: Maurs at April 20, 2005 04:01 PM

The animation says that they tipped the pyramid on its side, but it just shows the triangle being turned into another triangle. The subliminal symbolism is that they just made some random changes, but didn't really accomplish anything. What happens when you turn circle? Nothing, so you can't change our system as easily, you have to actually make some changes.

Posted by: Same European Guy at April 20, 2005 04:06 PM

I agree with the Same European Guy.

Posted by: American Teen at April 20, 2005 04:45 PM

I find it amusing that 'European' thinks America's obesity has anything to do with our stupid 'pyramid.' Americans are fat because most work way over 40 hours a week at sedentary desk jobs and get their 'nutrition' from vending machines and fast food restaurants. We drive everywhere, and use whatever means available to reduce physical activity (elevators, escalators, garage-door openers, electric pencil sharpeners, etc.). We need a new way of life (like that of some Europeans), not a new chart.

Posted by: ambrocked at April 20, 2005 05:30 PM

i like how on the one sideways word on that picture used letters that are the same upside down. i looked at that for the longest time thinking, wtf is slio and why should i eat less of it.

Posted by: Grundle at April 20, 2005 06:32 PM

Before it used to make sense for it to be a pyramid (Eat lots of the food at the base, eat less of the foods at the top.) Now it makes no sense at all.

Posted by: Matt at April 20, 2005 08:34 PM

They claimed that one of the reasons for a new pyramid was because the old one was "Difficult to understand." I think that if it was hard to read (which it wasn't) they definitely made it more broken.

Posted by: Pip at April 20, 2005 08:59 PM

if american's are fat, it ain't the pyramid's fault. i hardly ever think about the food guide pyramid. ever. do they really think that revamping the pyramid's going to do any good? if i ever (heaven forbid) go on a diet, i'm not taking orders from the government on how to do it, anyway.

i think the FDA's resoning is broken.

Posted by: Bob at April 20, 2005 10:41 PM

Well, at least no one's making the argument that this isn't broken...

Posted by: Hmm Indeed... at April 20, 2005 11:18 PM

one time i saw a nutrition chart and it said "you should eat alot of frech fries and popcorn" no i am not kidding this is exactly what it said.

Posted by: unkown at April 20, 2005 11:34 PM

What's the problem. I have no trouble understanding this chart!

Posted by: Rupert at April 21, 2005 07:07 AM

MILK? MILK? Not DAIRY, but MILK? They've got to be kidding! DEFINITELY broken! I agree with Cardhouse! This thing has government lobbying written all over it, and it's totally stupid design is worthless - it in effect says there's no actual "standard", since you have to personalize your own pyramid - your tax dollars at work - they say, "let's give people a "standard" that has no DATA, so everyone will be happy." - well, the MILK lobby will be happy!

Posted by: Kay at April 21, 2005 07:24 AM

The reason they changed it is that the old pyramid was not very meaningful either. The old pyramid implies that the most important thing you can do is eat a ton of carbohydrates-- that it's the base on which all other nutrition rests-- which is just not true at all. The now pyramid also happens to include a hint that nutrition is useless if you sit in front of the TV all day.

Both pyramids are an attempt to make vague suggestions somehow more concrete and interrelated.

Some comittee came up with some set of messages it had to communicate, and some designer had to smash all those together into a single logo that was somehow a pyramid-- because the old one was. It's all kind of useless if you ask me.

Posted by: Reed at April 21, 2005 09:25 AM

Remember the Incredible Edible Egg??? Sooner or later everything will be deemed cancerous or fattening (or at least the cause of ADHD). You live once and no one gets out alive. Just eat, drink and be merry!!

Posted by: Poindexter T Quakenfuss at April 21, 2005 10:27 AM

ok this is for the ranbow food chart..

so fish and meat is bad and breads like donuts are good! HELL YA!! a diet of nothing but donuts!

Posted by: brody at April 21, 2005 10:33 AM

hey euro-trash why is it that europeans always say YOU AMERICANS (followed by some snide remark about how much better you are?)just STFU! and you call us arogant! eat what you want. who looks at a chatr to figure out what your gona eat anyway. (unless u count the burger chart at mccdonalds

Posted by: mexcan man at April 21, 2005 10:44 AM

hey euro-trash why is it that europeans always say YOU AMERICANS (followed by some snide remark about how much better you are?)just STFU! and you call us arogant! eat what you want. who looks at a chatr to figure out what your gona eat anyway. (unless u count the burger chatr at mccdonalds

Posted by: mexcan man at April 21, 2005 10:45 AM

Huh. All that cheese and yogurt I've been eating. Who'd'a thunk all this time it had no nutritive value?

My wife's going to die within a month of this chart getting published. She's allergic to milk. Sucks to be her.

Posted by: DaveC426913 at April 21, 2005 11:12 AM

See the original food pyramid

Posted by: O. Leo Spred at April 21, 2005 12:58 PM

That is way too much milk. Not that I don't like milk, but it looks like our milk intake should equal our vegetable intake. Isn't milk really for babies anyway? Brits have a lower obesity rate cause they have no teeth. Sorry if that sounded hateful, I really think it is refreshing to see people who are so liberal minded about cultural sodomy. To get back on topic - the milk has to be about kids. The new food pyramid has to be primarily aimed at kids (we adults are beyond help) That huge milk slice represents the portion of childhood spent breastfeeding. (Assuming the target audience is between 6-10 years old)

Posted by: Seth at April 21, 2005 01:06 PM

Speaking technically, it's amazing how a simple change from a horizontal orientation to a vertical orientation can have drastic consequences. What made sense in the past (the proportional relationships of food-categories) is totally obfuscated by the lack of intuitive structure.

The two main themes of this "pyramid" (1. More personalized regimines based on age, sex, activity, etc., and 2. Balanced dietary requirements as opposed to fad focused diets) are not supported by the pyramid / spectrum metaphor.

I'm thinking try a circle to represent wholeness, with a person at the center. Or a pie chart - no pun intended... And the whole idea of the Brancusi figure climbing stairs is just a distratction - there really isn't a goal to being higher on the pyramid, unless that means that you should eat just a tiny fraction of the RDA.

I think we should submit our best designs to try to express the same thing.

Posted by: Deanomite at April 21, 2005 01:56 PM

Good idea - if you have a better design, post the URL to it so we can see!

Posted by: Mark Hurst at April 21, 2005 02:04 PM

Also, check out the "Activity" compared to "Moderation" schemas.

Activity - the dude on the stairs - is really represented from the unique "top is bad and bottom is good" heuristic. (The top means less activity, smaller stairs; the bottom means greater activity, bigger stairs) This is contrary to the more common "climbing stairs is hard because of gravity" heuristic. Curious.

Also "Moderation" is represented in another counter-intuitive fashion. The bottom means "eat more" which makes sense, but it also means "eat more because these foods are lower in fats, oils, and added sugars." If you look carefully at the old pyramid, it had the snowflakes showing you the density of fats and sweets, which grows as you go up. (Hmm, snow, up? Well, whatever, it makes more sense visually.)

Again, this is a sobering reminder that if you have to explain it, it isn't simple enough. I originally just saw the image without the explanation and I must admit I had totally different conclusions.

Posted by: Deanomite at April 21, 2005 02:13 PM

There is no iron-deficiency warning on the women's food charts along with the meat section (and if someone suddenly cuts red meat out, that will be a problem fast). Also, there's a consideration for physical activity and age, but not for weight, height, or body fat percentage, all things that modify the resting rate of caloric use. The food pyramid I got from the site is practically guaranteed to make me lose what weight I've managed to gain since I was borderline of having annorexia symptoms several years ago due to low body fat.

Posted by: jlady at April 21, 2005 06:00 PM

ok, I hate to go there (since I know it's WAY off topic), but since it was brought up in such a fashion, I have to. Why is it, exactly, "if someone suddenly cuts red meat out, that will be a problem fast?" I did so 10+ years ago, without any major repercussions, as have many others I know. Just curious.

Posted by: ambrocked at April 22, 2005 12:07 AM

ummmm... ya. there was like this weird program i had to go to about nutrition, and the one thing they emphasized most was DRINK MILK! GET CALCIUM! IF YOU DON'T YOU'LL LIKELY DROP DEAD ANY DAY NOW! so anyway, any of your suspicions about the Milk Lobby gaining a foothold would seem to be correct.

in reply to jlady- the point of the food guide pyramid is to eat them ALL. it isn't *for* somebody cutting out one thing or another. the point is a balanced diet. Obviously you can't just wite-out one part of the food guide pyramid and still expect it to work.

Posted by: Bob at April 22, 2005 07:21 AM

anyway, after going on the pyramid's site, i'm going to say that they just want you to eat less meat, white grains, and eat more fruit, veggies, and milk. this is not something happening to me soon.

Posted by: Bob at April 22, 2005 07:26 AM

What I think is stupid is that they attempt to make it "personalized," simply by asking how much "activity" you do. If I were to run a 5 miles every morning, surely that would count for more than somebody who spends half an hour walking to work?

Furthermore, I'm allergic to milk. If they were to insist that I eat that much milk, I'd get sick and die. Sometimes the wrong amount of personalization just makes things worse.

Posted by: Jo-Pete Nelson at April 22, 2005 04:38 PM

The new pyramid might not be better looking but it is better when it comes to information. The old pyramid was used originally in the "olden days" by farmers to fatten up cattle. They probably should just throw out the whole pyramid idea and create something a bit more organized than the new "MyPyramid" they have now.

Posted by: Silvious at April 23, 2005 02:58 PM

New pyramid is definitely broken. Seeing it, it looks exactly like what you get at the end of a weekend long meeting to select a new mission statement for a company that makes paper bags, or does waste recycling.

The information that is highlighted is uniformly useless to anyone trying to make nutrition decisions: "Proportionality, Moderation and Self-Improvement!!" It sounds like something out of 1984.

Also, this is supposed to be aimed at a general audience,or a little below. The average person probably doesn't even know what 'proportionality' means.

Posted by: J. Scott at April 24, 2005 01:12 PM

I dont really get it...

First of all the whole "...tip the pyramid on it's side..." makes no sense because the "new and improved" pyramid dosent really resemble the old one rotated 60 degrees.

Second: I didn't get the way that they said in the animation, "The bands are much wider at the base to remind us to eat mostly foods without solid fat and added sugars." I mean at age 13 I've always grown up with the understandable pyramid, not having to stare at the computer screen for minutes on end trying to figure out what they're saying.

Third: I find it interesting that the protien catagory is changed into "meats and beans" in a way that they're kind of saying "there's no other way of getting protien so fill up on meat and beans... meat and beans..."

Posted by: Ethan Skinner at April 25, 2005 07:02 PM

It is totally broken, but on the other hand the way they changed the labels--from "Dairy" to "MILK (just milk!)" for example--made me giggle. "No, those Cheetos are not dairy. It does matter if they are 'dangerously cheesy'; not Dairy. Drink MILK."

Posted by: Bianca at April 25, 2005 07:53 PM

In the Netherlands we use a pie graph. With a pie graph you don't have the space problem you have with a pyramid. Take a look at the pie graph game (dutch): (yes, we pay tax for that too).

For some information on how we handle this subject in the Netherlands (english):

Just one question: How much Heineken beer do I have to drink a day?

Posted by: Sebastian at April 26, 2005 11:16 AM

In all seriousness, I showed it to my elementary-age kids who understood the last one. They didn't get this. My 9 year old found the smallest "slice" and said, "This must be sugar." Then he took random guesses at the other "slices": green was vegetables, red was fruit and so on.

At least on the last version, he understood that he was to eat more grains and veggies than fats and sugars!!

Posted by: Laurie at April 26, 2005 11:22 AM

Thanks for creating this thread, I have been disgusted by this since it was announced. It's fitting that this administration comes up with something that's presented without hard factual data (such as servings information, or breadth of food types) - Hey it's all relative right? I like how the peak of the triangle looks like a snow cap. I guess that the folks who have a proporationally small total intake are 'out in the cold'. According to this relative scale, a person eating a bug with a blade of grass mingled with a little oil from their own fingers could still have a balanced meal at the top of the pyramid. See, we're feeding the poor. Roll on Orwell. The only irony to celebrate is that it looks like some bizarre offspring of the failed homeland security alert system and a 'pride' flag...

Posted by: JY at April 26, 2005 11:32 AM

So wrong. Its so 2D and its just showing type, amount and activity AND not well at all. Why would someone climbing up the stairs infer less activity? HUH???

What about gender/weight/age? At this point, our government should be able to hire people who know how to do interaction design. What Tufte consulted? Why not! As a designer, this makes me sick. I may not be the best, but this is just annoyingly bad.

Posted by: R Nelson at April 26, 2005 03:13 PM

In response to jlady's

"There is no iron-deficiency warning on the women's food charts along with the meat section (and if someone suddenly cuts red meat out, that will be a problem fast). "

No, it won't be a problem at all. If you follow nutritional guidelines and each an adequate amount of vegetables, you will actually be better off than if you eat meat. (Meat strips out calcium from the body as part of the digestion process). I've been a vegetarian for 13 years and have never had a problem with iron, calcium, or protein. And my cholestorol is a heck of a lot lower than most people's.

Posted by: Vegi at April 26, 2005 03:41 PM

Old pyramid, new pyramid, patoouie. Is there anyone left in the industrialized world who doesn't know that fruits and vegetables are good for you and that ice cream sundaes, deep-fried Snickers, and french fries are probably not? Imagine what that bureaucratic graphic design budget could have paid for in education, environmental issues, and public health.

Posted by: jreisen at April 26, 2005 04:05 PM

Instead of My Pyramid it should be the new government Pyramid Scheme to get us to eat right. Where is Edward Tufte when you need him?

Posted by: Tery Spataro at April 26, 2005 04:39 PM

well, never would have guessed that the government and diets would generate 50-odd responses.

what we really need is The Laizzes-Faire Diet, where you can have lunch w/o the government's telling you what to eat...

How can we eat?

Why do we eat?

Where shall we have lunch?

Posted by: Not An Objective Observer at April 26, 2005 08:47 PM

thanks, W., for finally giving this board an item all can agree is broken. It brings a tear to my eye.

Posted by: conant at April 26, 2005 09:17 PM

This post is now tied for the most comments with the complaint about the FedEx country list.

Posted by: nickd at April 28, 2005 04:47 PM

The confusion and complexity in the "new" pyramid is probably connected to the "food-industry lobbying" that you want us to ignore. Information and understanding are connected. So the politics that are wrapped around the food> lobbyist> health care > consumerism > obesity are interconnected. Perhaps that explains the distorted message in #2?

Posted by: Yakoob at May 2, 2005 04:38 PM

what is the difference between the old food pyramid and the new?i only heard about that new food pyramid's topic is with exercise and the old one is with diet.

Posted by: HjKim at May 12, 2005 05:11 PM

Yes quite useless.

I like the comment Grundle made earlier, about the little goldenrod colored slice for oils where the text was written vertically because there wasn't enough room -

"What is slio and why should I eat less?"

In the pdf "Mini Poster" of the pyramid the small goldenrod colored slice (for oils or slio) isn't given any text identifier. The only text is for the 5 colored food groups; grains, fruit, veggies, milk, and burritos (meat and beans).

I guess that Mediterranean Diet idea that olive oil or the idea that Omega 3 oils in fish are healthy never caught on at the USDA.

Posted by: Jack at May 14, 2005 04:19 AM

Just so everyone knows that it isn't impossible to make a food pyramid that makes sense. Harvard School of Public health put out one that makes plenty sense to me.

high lights

- The names of the groups make sense again "Dairy"

- Exercise AND weight control are represented correctly.

- The colors of the sections of the pyramid make sense.

all in all this is the new food pyramid i will follow.

Posted by: my_haz at May 15, 2005 09:10 AM

Food Pyramid comment:

My impression of all the federal food pyramids is that if you actually sat down and tried to eat all the portions of all the foods they suggest in a single day, you'd gain too much weight to leave the house to get the exercise they forgot to recommend !

The Stone Yamashita design is simple and easy to understand, not to mention visually appealing, not appalling as the government version is. I even wouldn't mind having a poster of Stone Yamashita's design in my kitchen on the fridge.

- Dave

Posted by: Dave Doolittle at July 11, 2005 05:20 PM

When MyPyramid first appeared I signed in as an 80 year-old inactive woman. I found out I needed 0 calories and 0 servings in all food categories. Apparently MyPyramid only applies if you're below 80. It's probably just as well because very few of the 80 to 90 year-old seniors on fixed incomes I work with have any access to a computer. And what about younger low-income folks who may only have limited access to a computer at the city library. Are they going to use that limited time to log on to MyPyramid? I think not.

Posted by: Cyndie Rothschild at July 24, 2005 04:39 PM

I thought we were supposed to eat 3 "square" meals a day anyways. Oh well, I usually hang out at the Taco my food chart is strangely shapped like a burrito.

Posted by: Darren Winland at July 29, 2005 12:56 AM

Is that a tomato in the 'vegetable' group in the left hand image?

Posted by: katy at September 24, 2005 01:09 PM

The design is easy enough to understand. I just don't think that many people care about the food pyramid. Correct me, please, if I'm wrong, but not that many people actually follow those guidelines. People eat what they want, when they want to.

Posted by: anonymous at October 4, 2005 06:58 PM

Sorry for this waste of space, but the above "anonymous" has no e-mail adress. Sorry

Posted by: anonymous at October 4, 2005 07:00 PM

I've tried to follow the pyramid's recommendation. Don't work! Seems to me the more grain you eat, the bigger the cow. I know ranchers feed their cattle lots of grain to fatten them up just before selling them at market. Somebody is sure lobbying hard and thinking that America is stupid. Wake up.

Posted by: Rick at November 5, 2005 12:36 AM

I just want to know if Budweiser is considered grain or vegetable.

Posted by: Timm at December 29, 2005 10:45 PM

Fokes, the USDA has no clue on what we are supposed to eat.

First of all, some whole grains are fine, but too many will gain you weight.

And talk about fat, they put vegtable oil there. You CAN'T COOK with vegtable oil. You can't cook with canola oil either. And they say that "go with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats". This is misguided.

A proper diet includes: Some whole grains, plenty of vegtables (perferrably green leafy), 2 to 3 servings of dark colored fruits especially acai duice and blueberries for antioxidents, 2 to 4 servings of nuts (raw almonds and walnuts are the best), and a serving or two of organic, grass-fed meat. I also recommend consumption of 2 coconuts and 2 fatty fruits a week, like avacados.

Speaking of fats, we need a balance of unprocessed monounsaturated fats, a 1:1 to 3:1 omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, and unprocessed saturated fats.

For polyunsaturated oils, choose fish oil, flax oil, and cod liver oil. You can get them as gelcap suppliments, but if you want to use it, use it for salad dressings only. Don't cook with these oils and keep them in the fridge. For monounsaturated oils, use extra virgion olive and grapeseed oils and nut oils (almond, peanue, etc) for salad dressings and sauteeing. Olive oil and basmic vinagerette makes a wanderful combination. For saturated oils (Yes! Unprocessed saturated fat is, infact, good for you!), unhydronated palm kernal oil and palm oils are good, but extra virgion coconut oils are the best! Processed or hydronated fats? AVOID THEM! This include ALL margarines (That includes Smart Balance Omega!), vegtable shortening, canola oil, soy oil, cottenseed oil, vegtable oil, and any oils that don't say "virgion" on them. Coconut oil, butter, lard, palm oil, and palm kernal oils are the only exception for baking. Vegtable shortening (Even though it's trans fat free) is far worse than even bad quality lard. A processed fat is a processed fat is a processed fat. When it comes to oils, choose a natural oil. Also, when it comes to sweetners, stevia is recommended. Use table sugar or maple syrup only in moderation. AVOID artificial sweetners like sweet-n-low, splenda, or nutrasweet. These are toxic. Stevia is not a sugar and it's a natural herbal sweetner, so it's non-toxic. They sell it as a diatery suppliment, but hey. You can't do anymore than to sweeten your foods.

And lastly, drink at least 1 gallon of water daily and get 90 to 120 minutes of moderate exercise a day. An ideal fat-protein-carbohydrate ratio should be: 40:30:30. The rundown: 90 grams of fat a day for a 2000 calorie diet, and 150 grams of protein and 150 grams of carbohydrate. There are also some evidence that people have different metabolic types, and may meed more or less, but for now, this ratio is the best.

And I think that this diet plan, "well, I think that I make it as perfect as possible", is based on good science and these people have to realize that it's the overly processed and badly engionerred fats and sugars, not the natural saturated fats and cholestral, that causes all these heart problem. And lastly, go AS ORGANIC AS POSSIBLE. Avoid Soy products, overly processed foods, and stay away as far as possible from genetically altered foods.

Posted by: James at February 12, 2006 01:47 AM

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