The Food Pyramid is a graphical guideline of the various types of food to be taken during the day to achieve a healthy, balanced diet.
As a concept the pyramid is simple. You should eat more of the foods from the bottom two shelves of the pyramid, namely, breads, cereals, potatoes, fruit and vegetables, with smaller amounts of foods coming from milk, cheese, yoghurt, meat and alternatives. Fats, oils and sweets forming the tip of the pyramid should be thoroughly controlled with few servings as possible. Choosing a correct mixture of foods from each shelf of the Pyramid will provide a balance of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals each day.
Ideally it is suggested to take 6 to 11 servings of the foods in the bottom category of the pyramid. Breads, grains, cereals and pastas provide complex carbohydrates and Vitamin B, which are an important source of energy, especially for a low-fat meal plan. One serving of this group is considered to be one half cup cooked rice or pasta, one slice of bread, half a bread roll or baguette, one half cup cooked grains or cereals, one ounce muesli or breakfast cereal.
Fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients. Many are excellent sources of vitamin A & vitamin C, high in fibre, whilst low in fats, sodium and sugar. The Food Pyramid suggests 3 to 5 servings of vegetables each day. One serving of vegetables can be one cup of raw leafy vegetables, half a cup of other cooked or raw vegetables, and three quarters of a cup vegetable juice. It also suggests to take a minimum of two servings of fresh fruit daily. One serving may be composed of, one medium sized apple, orange or banana; half cup of chopped, cooked or canned fruit and three quarters of a cup fruit juice. It is also suggested that fruit juice should be fresh and not from any of the ready bottled juices at supermarkets, as these contain high volumes to added sugars and calories which might interfere with your diet plans.
How Food Pyramid Helps to Keep You Fit?
The Food Pyramid is designed to make healthy eating easier. Healthy eating is about getting the correct amount of nutrients – protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals you need to maintain good health.
Foods that contain the same type of nutrients are grouped together on each of the shelves of the Food Pyramid. This gives you a choice of different foods from which to choose a healthy diet. Following the Food Pyramid as a guide will help you get the right balance of nutritious foods within your calorie range. Studies show that we take in too many calories from foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt, on the top shelf of the Food Pyramid. They provide very little of the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs. Limiting these is essential for healthy eating.
What is Healthy Eating?
So in a nutshell, healthy eating involves:
- plenty of vegetables, salad and fruit
- a serving of wholemeal cereals and breads, potatoes, pasta and rice at every meal - go for wholegrain varieties wherever possible
- some milk, yoghurt and cheese
- some (optional) meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts (must)
- a very small amount of fats, spreads and oils
- and a very small amount or no foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt
How to Serve Food?
These are some great diet tips, on how you should eat and serve them, keeping nutrition intact:
- Grain: Substitute whole grain cereal for bread crumbs in toppings.
- Vegetables: Try crunchy vegetables raw or lightly steamed.
- Fruits: Try applesauce as a fat-free substitute for oil in baking.
- Milk: Trim down from whole milk to fat-free gradually, week by week.
- Meat/Beans: Replace some of the meat in your diet with nuts.
Traditionally, the higher up the food group in the pyramid the lower the share of that group should be in your daily calorie consumption.
The most recent version of the food pyramid changed the presentation of the way food groups should be present in your diet. The face of the pyramid is now made up of colored wedges running down from the tip to the base. Each colour represents a food group. The width of the wedge at the base of the pyramid now shows how much of that food group should make up your daily calorie consumption.
Food Pyramid: Food Groups
Let's have a look at the individual food groups now.
Grains are the largest individual group. If we take fruit and vegetable together, though, then this combined group wins hands down. This means that the largest share of our daily calorie intake should be from fruit and vegetable combined, followed by grains, dairy products, then meat, fish and beans, and finally oils, the group that is so small that it hasn't even got its own label at the foot of the pyramid. It's the tiny wedge between fruit and milk.
One big omission from this food pyramid is water. Water is vital. And yet, so many people complain that they simply can't drink so much water.
If someone stood next to them, pointed a loaded gun at their head and told them: "Drink, or else!" Would they drink? Of course, they would. Anybody would. Your life's at stake. It's the same when you don't drink enough. Only when we don't drink enough, the consequences are long term, not immediate. That's why we think we can afford to push them into the long grass.
How much is enough? As a general guideline, we need about 1.5 to 2 litres - or 6 to 8 large glasses - per day (depending on climate and on our level of physical activity) to prevent dehydration. Here is an interesting fact: 2% dehydration seriously impairs your power of concentration. How much water do you drink? Did you have a large glass of water immediately when you got out of bed today?
Infants, children and the elderly are more likely to experience dehydration. That's why they, or their carers, need to pay special attention to their fluid intake.
Because of their calorie content, soft drinks and fruit juices are not good choices for replacing lost fluids, especially if you are working out to try and lose or manage your weight. Try adding just a splash of fruit juice or a slice of lemon or lime to a glass of water if you don't like the taste of plain water.
The current food pyramid is certainly progress when compared to any of its predecessors. For my money, though, I'd follow the approach taken by another food pyramid any time:
The California Food Pyramid
The California Cuisine Pyramid is at the cutting edge of nutritional science. Its approach broadens the scope of our traditional food pyramid. It is not a food-only pyramid. It provides also a basis to include physical activity, water, and dietary supplement advice. Let's have a closer look at what it has to offer. (You'll find a link to the California Cuisine Pyramid is at the end of this article.)
Taste is at the top of the pyramid, because it is the most important element in encouraging food intake. Instead of the dots symbolising hidden fats and oils (in the traditional food pyramid) or just oils in the newer version, the use of natural flavour enhancers is recommended as needed including: avocado, herbs, nuts, olives, seeds, spices (including garlic, chillies, onions, cumin, curry, mustard, peppers), oils rich in monounsaturates and omega-3 fatty acids, and sweeteners (honey, molasses, sugars, sweeteners).
A further step is the inclusion of plant-based protein for balanced nutrition in the 4 to 6 daily servings of protein. Recommendation for protein now includes soy protein, beans and legumes with rice or corn (for plant-based protein) or non-fat dairy products, egg white, poultry, fish/seafood, lean meats (for animal protein). Soy protein is a nutritionally complete protein with great health benefits. Soy protein isolate, an easily absorbable form of soy protein, was given approval for a cholesterol-lowering food claim by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States. It is recommended as a protein balance for meat derived protein in the diet. There is also emerging evidence on the effects of soy protein as an antioxidant and tumour growth inhibitor.
For grain read "wholegrain," not refined (white) flour, bread, pasta or rice. Choose the "brown" variety and make sure that it's whole grain and not just whole meal.
The California Cuisine Pyramid also extends the recommended 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day to 5 to 11 servings with a predominance of vegetables over fruit. Broadly speaking, women should eat at least 7 servings while men should eat at least 9 servings (a serving is about a cup of fresh vegetable, a half cup of cooked vegetable, or a half cup of fruit).
Given all this official advice based on cutting edge nutritional science, the next question seems to be almost redundant. But is it?
Supplements in Food Pyramid
We've all heard this lament before:
"Are supplements really necessary? I don't like taking pills, I get all my nutrients from food."
Consider this: Even equipped with the best intentions, the right information and sufficient time and money, it is virtually impossible for us to obtain all the nutrients we need just from our daily food alone. Getting the right nutrition is no longer easy.
Agriculture has changed so much during the last 50 years: It has become industrialized; seasonal fruit and vegetable are now kept for excessively long periods in cold storage to make them available throughout the year; soil has become depleted; additives in the soil and in the food require caution in our decisions how much we eat of certain foods; and the jury is still out on the long term impact of genetic manipulation. All these factors certainly have reduced the nutritional density and content of the food we eat. Fresh food simply does not provide us with the amount nutrients we think we are getting. Supplementation is necessary to achieve our goal of optimally balanced nutrition.
Scientific evidence in favor of supplementation has been mounting in the last ten, fifteen years. Supplementation is recommended by the World Health Organization and by numerous physicians. Sadly, all to often people mistake taking nutritional supplements with taking medication because most supplements come as tablets or capsules. The shape of the thing, that is, its method of delivery should not blind us to the fact that to ensure optimum wellness taking supplements has become inevitable.