Because my education is grounded in science, I'm sticking with the American Dietetic Association's stance that eating based on the USDA Food Pyramid is still the healthiest plan. I know there has been lots of criticism of this plan, with some suggesting that since Americans have actually gotten more obese since the Food Pyramid has been published, it is a failure. But that criticism assumes people are following the government's guidelines! My observation is that most people don't follow the Food Pyramid's recommendations. In fact, according to the Nutrition Research Newsletter, most children and adolescents are not eating the minimum daily requirements of fruit and vegetables. People are not following the Pyramid. Only a study following people who actually base their diet on this eating plan would give us an accurate answer as to its credibility and health effects. Anecdotal evidence just doesn't cut it.
Carbohydrates have been painted as the enemy. But complex carbohydrates, including whole grains, cereal, pasta, and brown rice, are good for you. They provide fiber, B vitamins, phytochemicals, and antioxidants that your body needs to stay healthy. In fact, you can only get plant fiber from grains, fruits, and vegetables. If you are reducing carbohydrates, by all means cut back or eliminate white breads, white rice, sugar and other sweets, highly processed foods, even pasta. But don't eliminate whole grain breads, legumes, cereals, whole grain pastas, vegetables, fruits, or brown rice. Whole carbohydrate foods are good carbs, which can help stabilize blood sugar and make you feel satisfied longer.
Since many of us do use processed foods to cut down on time spent in the kitchen, learn to read nutrition labels. Make special note of the number of servings in each package, and the serving size. Most people eat far more than the recommended serving size of most foods. When you look at the Daily Value (DV) percentage of nutrients in the foods, remember that if a food contains 20% or more of any nutrient, that food is considered high in that nutrient. Be wary of words like 'lite' or 'improved'. These can be marketing terms, not nutrition claims. Some words do have a particular meaning. For instance, 'free' means the food contains an amount so tiny that it won't affect your body. For more info about word meanings on nutrition labels, see this Newsline article. Also pay attention to 'use by' and 'sell by' dates, to keep you and your family safe.