Pyramids, Plates, and Pagodas: Dietary Guidelines From Around the World
Several dietary guidelines graphics were found via the European Food Information Council; the rest came from each country's own government health page. For more food pyramid coverage on GOOD, check out our design competition brief and its winning entries, as well as this proposal for a double pyramid that includes environmental as well as human health.
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Following today's release of updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the ubiquitous food pyramid will need to be revised accordingly. Perhaps, as our recent Project to Design a Better Food Pyramid suggested, it should be scrapped and replaced with something else altogether. Although the USDA has used a pyramid graphic to communicate its nutrition advice since 1992, other countries around the world have embraced dietary guidelines in the form of a plate, a set of stairs, a pagoda, and even a rainbow. And, of course, the specific foodstuffs depicted, and even the quantities of each required for a healthy diet, vary by country, culture, and cuisines. Check out this slideshow to see what a healthy diet looks like around the world.
Germany uses a complicated-looking 3-D pyramid that you can rotate online here. The extra dimension allows for a characteristic thoroughness: the sides of the pyramid rate each food type (plant-based, animal-based, fats, and beverages) according to its nutritional quality, while the base contains a circle that advises on how much of each food type should be consumed relative to others.
Slovenia's build-your-own pyramid is a low-tech version of Germany's 3-D model, although, puzzlingly, it lacks a base.
The Greek pyramid, by comparison, is rather boring visually, but I like the fact that olive oil merits an entire level of its own, immediately above fruit and vegetables. Meanwhile, red wine is positioned in such a way that it is clearly as important to health as exercise.
The Spanish food pyramid also creates a separate (but smaller) section for olive oil but replaces the red wine with water.
The Swiss food pyramid seems like a model of good sense, with water taking up the largest level at the bottom (where most other countries, including the United States, put grains and starches), followed by fruit and vegetables. At the top, the Swiss add a charming note that soda, cake, and chips should be consumed carefully, but "with pleasure."
The Chinese Nutrition Society created a slightly peculiar-looking pagoda to visualize its dietary guidelines. Bizarrely, tofu is ranked only just below oil, grouped with milk and dairy products.
None of these pyramids are really masterpieces of graphic design, but this Hungarian house is particularly pitiful. Aesthetics aside, however, it succeeds in being admirably clear and bold in its embrace of an Atkins-style carb-free diet.
Japan's official food guide is an inverted pyramid, or spinning top (powered, perhaps, by the man running on its surface). Its other peculiarity is that fruit, which is admittedly high in sugars but is usually lumped in with vegetables in the healthy category, in placed in the restricted zone alongside milk and dairy products.
The French abandon the pyramid altogether, in favor of ascending steps. Sugars, fats, and salt should be consumed in such tiny quantities that you will need a magnifying glass to see them.
The Canadian pyramid is subtle—perhaps too subtle?—with its recommendations, allowing color choices and slight variations in band width to stand in for serving quantities. It's also unclear whether the distant objects—nuts, an apple, and some cheese—should be consumed in smaller quantities than beans, broccoli, and milk in the foreground.
Although Australia also has a food wheel, this apple jigsaw is the centerpiece of its "Food for Health: Dietary Guidelines for Australians" poster. Only fruit and vegetables, safe food handling techniques, exercise, and breast milk make the grade, with a small box at the side explaining that Australians are also encouraged to eat plenty of cereals and should include low-fat dairy and lean proteins in their diet.
Britain is one of several countries (including The Netherlands and Norway) that presents its dietary guidelines in a circular shape. The Eat Well Plate focuses on proportions at a single meal, rather than servings over the course of the day, and says nothing about water or physical activity. The pie chart format allows starches and grains and fruit and vegetables to be given equal weight, something that is impossible in a graduated pyramid.
For a country where three out of every 10 people are classified by the World Food Program as chronically food insecure, Haiti's dietary guidelines are a masterpiece of clarity and good sense. The simple circle is divided into three equal-sized categories: foods that protect (represented by the padlock), foods that build the body (the house), and foods that give energy (the fire).