Eating right is the way to good health and a fit body. Most people copy diets and eating trends, without really understanding the importance of a particular food. This is where the Food Pyramid comes in.
The Food Pyramid is the guideline that helps you develop good dietary habits and reduce the risk of major chronic diseases. It was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nearly two decades ago. The aim was to help you choose from a variety of foods and get the nutrition you need.
Reading the Food Pyramid
The pyramid shows different food groups and servings that you should ideally include in your daily intake. Foods that contain same amounts of nutrients are grouped together on each shelf of the food pyramid. The suggested serving size in the food pyramid helps you to control the amount of calorie, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugar in your diet. The parts of the pyramid signify how important they are by the width of the band. The band gets smaller as it goes towards the top.
Food Pyramid Explanation:
1. Whole Grains:
The base of the food pyramid consists of whole-grain foods like breads, grains, cereal and pastas. Muffins, pancakes, grits, oatmeal and cereals also fall into this category. These whole grain foods provide the body with complex carbohydrates, the primary source of fuel in the body. The pyramid divides grains into two groups: whole grains and refined grains.
It is recommended that 50% of a person’s daily grain serving should come from whole grains. Whole grain consists of the entire grain kernel like bran, germ and endosperm. Whole grain foods are less processed which results in retaining the valuable minerals, vitamins and fiber as compared to foods made with white flour. The body can digest whole grains better than the white flour. They contain fiber and B vitamin which keeps the insulin level stable. Better control of insulin level controls hunger and prevents the development of type 2 diabetes. These foods form an important part of a low-fat meal plan.
Refined grains are grains in which germ and bran are removed. Refined grains lose most of the nutrients during the refining process. Most of the refined grains are fortified with iron and B vitamin to make them nutritionally adequate.
A person requires 6 to 11 servings of whole grain foods every day. Try to include whole grain breads, pasta and cereal for the majority of your servings for the day.
- 1 slice of bread,
- 1/2 cup rice or noodles
- 1/2 cup oatmeal,
- 1 cup of cereal,
- 4 small crackers,
- 1 pancake
2. Fruits and Vegetables:
Fruits and vegetables hold the second position in the food pyramid chart. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables has bountiful benefits. Vegetables are an amazing source of vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, potassium, phosphorus and are low in fat and sodium. These nutrients fight the free radicals in the body to protect us against several diseases. It reduces the possibility of heart attack and cancer and prevents intestinal ailments. The pyramid divides vegetables into five categories. The five categories of vegetables include:
Dark Green Leafy Vegetables:
- Raw or cooked spinach
- Dark green lettuce
- Sweet potato
- Butternut squash
Dried Beans and Peas:
- Black beans
- Kidney Beans
- Pinto beans
- Green beans
Most of the commercially available fruit juices contain loads of calories and sugar, making them unhealthy for daily consumption. Punches, sodas and squash only have a small amount of real juice.
Women are recommended to consume 2 ½ cups of vegetables per day while men are advised to consume 3 cups of vegetables daily.
- 1 cup leafy vegetables
- 1/2 cup raw, non-leafy vegetables
- 1/2 cup cooked vegetables
- 1/2cup beans or peas,
- 1 small baked potato,
- 3/4 cup vegetable juice
1 medium fruit (apple, orange, peach),
1 cup berries or cut fruit,
1/4 cup dried fruit,
1 glass juice
3. Beans, Eggs, Lean Meat and Fish:
Meat, poultry and fish supply the body with adequate amounts of iron, protein and zinc. These nutrients are required for improving blood circulation in the body. The high amount of Omega 3 fatty acids in fish reduces the risk of heart diseases. Chicken on the other hand, is a good source of protein and is low in saturated fat.
Non meat food sources like peas, beans and lentils also provide many of these nutrients. Beans include black beans, navy beans, garbanzo beans and lentils. Nuts like almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnut and pistachios are also recommended. Eating nuts and beans can lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes. People suffering from diabetes should limit their egg consumption to not more than three days a week as it contains high amount of trans-fat, which may affect the body adversely. Try to eat lean meat, fish and lentils as they are low in fat. Avoid consuming red meat, fried foods or eat them in moderation as they contain a high amount of fat.
USDA recommends consuming two to three ounces of meat daily.
- One ounce of meat,
- 1/2 cup dry beans or peas,
- 1 egg,
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter,
- 1/3 cup nuts,
- 1/2 cup tuna,
- 1 small chicken leg or thigh,
- 1 ounce of chicken breast
- 1 fish filet
4. Dairy products:
This food group is the most dependable source of calcium in your diet. Calcium is required for building strong bones, teeth and muscles. Adequate intake of calcium during adolescence and early adulthood increases optimal bone density in both men and women. It also protects against bone fracture and osteoporosis. Apart from calcium, dairy products are also rich in vitamin and minerals like iron and phosphorus. The food pyramid suggests drinking two to three servings of milk per day. Lactating and pregnant women, teenagers and young adults under the age of 24 should consume three servings of milk or dairy products per day. Adults over 24 years of age should consume two servings of milk daily. Go easy on high-fat cheese and ice cream. Choose milk, yoghurt and cheese made from skim milk as they are low in fat. If you’re intolerant to milk, then you can consume low-lactose, non-lactose milk product, or calcium fortified soy product.
- 1 cup of milk
- 1 cup of yogurt
- 2 ounces processed cheese
- 1 1/2 ounces natural cheese
- 1 cup frozen yogurt
- 1 1/2 cups ice-cream
- 2 cups cottage cheese
5. Fats, oil and sweets:
Foods high in fat, sugar and salt acquire the top shelf. This indicates that they provide very little essential vitamin and mineral needed by the body. These foods include salad dressing, sweets, butter, sugar, soft drinks, candies and desserts. These foods should be eaten sparingly and should comprise the smallest percentage in your diet. A little amount of fat is not harmful at all. In fact, it is necessary to eat some fat in order to maintain energy and health. In addition to providing energy, fats are also involved in the transportation of vitamins and in the composition of hormones. Good sources of healthy unsaturated fats include olive oil, canola, sunflower seeds, peanut, fatty fish like salmon, and other vegetable oils. Healthy fats not only improve the cholesterol levels, but also protect from heart diseases. Go easy on the margarine, gravy, candies and salad dressings.
Sugars that are naturally found in fruits are not harmful to health. It is the added sugar that needs to be limited as they contain few nutrients, but are full of calories. Added sugars are found in soda drinks, jams, jellies, syrups and sweetened yoghurt. Small amounts of candies, soft drinks and other sweet drinks can be taken once a while, but remember they shouldn’t be taken every day. Try snacking on foods from different groups of the food pyramid.
The food guide pyramid recommends adults to consume 6 teaspoons of oil daily.
- 1 teaspoon of oil
- 1 teaspoon of a soft margarine
- 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon of salad dressing
- 4 large olives
- 1/4 of an avocado
- 1/2 tablespoon of peanut butter
If you eat a healthy and varied diet, then usually there is no requirement of any food supplement. You will get all the nutrition required from the food itself. A daily multivitamin supplement is beneficial for a nutritional backup, especially to increase vitamin D content in the body. In addition to its bone health benefits, it also lowers the risk of colon and breast cancer. Your aim should be to get 800 to 1000 IU vitamin D a day. Pregnant ladies and women of childbearing age should take folic acid supplements of 400 micrograms per day. While supplements can in no way replace healthy and nutritious foods, it may help to fill the nutritional deficiency in the body.
The MyPyramid Plan:
MyPyramid, released by the USDA in 2005, is an update on the earlier food guide pyramid. The new MyPyramid plan uses the same basic food groups, but arranges them in a different way. The pyramid includes a new symbol, a person climbing up the stairs, which represents physical activity. The other difference is measuring food quantities in cups and ounce instead of serving. MyPyramid stresses on the activity and moderation of fat consumption, along with the proper mix of food groups in a diet.
MyPyramid is made of six divisions. It consists of six vertical stripes. The wide sections are filled with foods we should consume every day in highest amount, while the narrow sections represent food we should consume in small quantities. The major sections comprise of grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, beans and meat. The thin stripes represent fats and oil.
The ‘use sparingly’ part at the top of the new pyramid includes refined grain that is white bread, pasta, potatoes, salt, sugary drinks and sweets. Alcohol is also listed in moderation as there is some evidence that little amount of alcohol may have some health benefits, especially for middle aged people. But alcohol is strictly prohibited for pregnant and lactating women. It also suggests avoiding trans-fat and limiting the amount of processed food, frozen and canned foods as they contain high amounts of sodium.
The person climbing the steps on the left side of the pyramid symbolizes the importance of being active in life. The ‘staying active’ column reminds us that physical activity is an essential part of the energy balance equation and should be combined with healthy eating. Thus, we should engage in physical activities to reduce sedentary life styles and promote overall health and well-being.
MyPyramid was used till June 2011, when the USDA replaced it with MyPlate.
MyPlate is the current nutrition guide published by the USDA. It depicts a plate divided into four food groups. The sections comprise of 30% grains, 30% vegetables, 20% fruits and 20% protein, accompanied by a small circle representing dairy, i.e. a glass of non-fat milk or a cup of yoghurt.
According to MyPlate:
You should use healthy oils like olive or canola oils for cooking and for salad dressing. Limit your butter consumption and avoid consuming foods high in trans-fat.
Include healthy and green vegetables in your diet, but use potatoes sparingly. Eat plenty of fruits in all colors.
Drink 8 glasses of water every day and take tea and coffee with little or no sugar. Limit your milk consumption to 2 servings a day and 1/2 glass of juice daily. Limit refined grains like white rice and white bread consumption. Choose fish, poultry, and limit red meat, bacon, cheese and processed nuts.
MyPlate tells you to reserve a quarter of your plate for grains. But also states that grains are not essential for a good health. Whole grains are best for consumption as they have a gentler effect on blood sugar than refined grains. Consume a variety of whole grain products like whole grain pasta, oats, barley and white rice. Finely ground grains are digested more rapidly and have a greater impact on blood sugar than the coarsely ground or intact grains.
Food Pyramid helps people consume all the nutrients and food compounds that are needed to maintain good health. It encourages people to avoid consuming foods and drinks that provide lots of calories and have little nutritional value. It also addresses the other aspects of a healthy lifestyle like exercise, weight control and multivitamin supplements.
Including the Food Pyramid in your daily diet will ensure you take the right foods in the right quantity. Stay healthy stay fit and eat right! And comment too!