Plates, Pyramids, Pagodas! Comparing 3 Food Guides of Different Countries

By Sammy Seefeldt, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

Food graphics are a tool for making food choices. Although most of the recommendations are similar, each graphic depicts the guidance differently.  Did you know that countries have unique graphics for their nutrition guidelines? I never had realized until recently that this is the case! The graphics have similar components but each takes into account the cultural preferences when placing the foods. Let’s look at three different guides, noting the similarities and differences, realizing the impact in each that culture has.

United States

You may recognize the food diagram of the United States– MyPlate. This guide is formatted as a plate highlighting the main food groups. The simplicity of the graphic is appealing. The plate guides individuals to have a meal filled with half vegetables and fruit, a quarter of grains, and a quarter of protein. Notably, this plate also includes a glass for dairy consumption. The uniqueness of the dairy portion may indicate the emphasis of dairy in the U.S. food supply. This guide does not indicate specifically what types of foods should be eaten more or less (whole grains, lean meats) and does not contain oils as a category; looking deeper into the Dietary Guidelines for Americans helps with additional guidance. Myplate.gov is useful for understanding this diagram… but do all Americans put effort into obtaining this extra information?

China

As you can see, China’s food guide is very different from that of the U.S. with more detail, differing placement of food groups, and extra items. The depiction of the food groups in the pagoda is culturally sensitive. In the base of the pagoda are the cereals, tubers, and legumes.  This part looks slightly bigger than the next level, but the total quantity of fruits and vegetables recommended is more than from cereals, tubers, and legumes. This hidden difference elucidates the importance of the bottom food group to the Chinese, similar in importance as fruits and vegetables to the U.S. Interestingly, the amounts and specific types of the food groups are shown on the right side of the diagram. This is user-friendly and provides more detail to fully understand the food choices. Sodium recommendations are much more generous in China at <6000mg vs 2300mg in the U.S.  Most obvious is the addition of physical exercise to the diagram. Do you agree with me that this is an awesome addition?!

Australia

Australia was a pyramid I had not seen until writing this blog! What caught my eye were the details of the graphics. For example, look at the “enjoy herbs and spices”, “choose water”, healthy fats, types of grains (quinoa, oats), types of milk (soy milk), and how lentils are both in the vegetables and legumes section as well as the protein section. These details are useful for vegetarians especially! The addition of what to limit was also something that was not included on the U.S. or China diagrams that I personally believe is a necessary component. What do you think?

Conspicuously, these graphics differ in many ways. Yet, each emphasizes the consumption of mostly vegetables and fruits and less dairy, protein, and carbohydrates. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are updated every 5 years; what are some elements you would like to see on our food guide graphic in the future? What are elements from each food graphic (U.S., China, and Australia) that you like and dislike? Comment below!

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