A month has passed since you made your New Year’s resolutions, and whether you’ve fallen into some positive new routines or struggling to keep up, you need support with some nutrition 101: the food pyramid. This will give you the energy, vitality and power needed to achieve your goals!
The food pyramid originated in Sweden and developed by the World Health Organisation in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organization, the ‘food pyramid’ is a way of illustrating seven key food groups and how they should best factor into a person’s diet to most effectively prevent health issues such as cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, unhealthy weight gain, certain cancers, and dental complications. Although earlier models of the pyramid have been criticised for their simplicity, they are useful for providing a basic nutritional overview. Here are the food groups you need for healthy eating.
1Bread, cereal, rice and pasta
This food group sits at the bottom of the food pyramid; the USDA recommends that you eat more of this food group than any other. You should eat six to eleven servings per day. One serving is close to one slice of bread, one ounce of cereal, or half a cup of cooked rice or pasta. These foods are a great source of carbohydrates, the nutrient that provides us with the majority of our mental and physical energy levels, and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that this food group account for 45 to 65 percent of a person’s whole diet.
It is recommended that you go for foods containing complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain breads, beans, pulses and vegetables rich in starch. These foods provide more nutritional value than simple carbohydrates such as white rice, white bread, white pasta and other foods made using white flour. Complex carbohydrates provide us with more energy because they have a more complex molecular form which makes digesting them slower. This means that energy is released over a longer period of time, which will reflect in your energy levels. Simple carbs, on the other hand, will give you a short burst of energy, sometimes followed by an energy crash. They are therefore less efficient. Complex carbohydrates are additionally a good source of vitamin B, fiber, and minerals such as zinc and magnesium.
This group, which sits on the second row from the bottom on the pyramid, combines a huge variety of different plants, all with very different nutritional values. This can usually be determined by the color of the vegetable, though this is not an exact science.
Green vegetables are often good sources of vitamin A and iron such as peas, spinach, broccoli and collard greens; red and orange tend to be high in vitamin C such as red bell pepper (broccoli also has a high vitamin C content); and blues and purples, such as eggplant, can have strong antioxidant qualities. Due to the sheer amount of difference in this group, make sure you’re including as many different kinds in your diet as possible to make the most of all those different vitamins and minerals. It’s recommended to include 3-5 servings (1 serving is generally half a cup of any one vegetable, or one cup of leafy greens) a day in your diet.
As with the vegetable group, variation is key here to taking advantage of all the goodness packed into these sweet, seeded foods. There are many different kinds of fruits, and each has a unique nutritional makeup. The fruits group stands next to the vegetables group on the second row from the bottom on the food pyramid.
Oranges and clementines are high in vitamin C, although a lesser-known fact is that strawberries contain the most of any fruit. Blueberries contain a strong antioxidant called anthocyanin, as do red and purple grapes, and this can prevent cancer and heart disease. Apples are very high in fiber and help to lower cholesterol. Bananas are a great source of potassium. Pears are good for the bowel, containing a good amount of sorbitol and fiber. Raspberries have the highest fiber content for the smallest calorie exchange, and apricots have a number of nutritional ‘claims to fame’, being high in protein, iron, vitamin K and A, calcium, folic acid, iron, and zinc. Two to four servings (one serving is one medium piece of fruit, half a cup of chopped fruit or berries, or three-quarters of non-concentrated fruit juice) a day is recommended from the fruit section of the food pyramid for healthy eating.
4Milk, Yoghurt and Cheese
This group sits on the row above the ‘fruit’ and ‘vegetables’ group on the food pyramid, the second row from the top. Dairy produce is the best source of calcium, the most common mineral in the human body which is responsible for building and maintaining strong teeth and bones, regulating muscle contractions, and ensuring that the blood clots healthily. Ensuring you include strong sources of calcium within your diet will protect against rickets in young people and osteoporosis later in life. It is also believed that calcium may aid in maintaining a healthy blood pressure, and even protect against colon and breast cancer.
Although calcium can be obtained by consuming animal products, you can also find good sources of calcium in plant milks, green leafy vegetables like cabbage and broccoli, soya products, tofu, and nuts, including nut-based milks. Adults require 700mg of calcium per day to keep healthy, around two to four servings (one serving = a cup of milk or yoghurt, 1.5 ounces of cheese, etc).
5Meat, , Fish, Poultry Dry Beans, Nuts and Eggs
This group is next to the yoghurt and cheese’ group on the second row from the top of the pyramid. All the foods mentioned are major sources of protein, and are also rich in iron, zinc and vitamin B12. 2-3 servings (one serving is two to three ounces of cooked meat or fish, one egg, half a cup of cooked beans or two tablespoons of nuts) are recommended daily.
6Fats, Oils and Sweets
This group sits at the top of the pyramid, and includes butter and cooking oils. They are high in fats and calories, but do not have much nutritional value; vegetable oil is a notable exception as a strong source of vitamin E and iron. Healthy fats are advised as substitutes to these where possible, and can be found in nuts, fruit and vegetables such as avocados, and fish. Eating these in moderation is not a problem if you are looking to practice healthy eating, but try to concentrate on the rest of the sections of the food pyramid.