The food pyramid is a graphic representation of the principles of healthy eating – the general idea of how to compose your menu to do so for the benefit of health. It is accompanied by 10 concise principles that together form the starting point for nutrition planning.
The most important change in the pyramid is the shift of vegetables to its lowest floor – that is, giving them the rank of the most important food products in the daily menu. Vegetables and fruit have replaced cereal products, the amount of which is currently somewhat limited – from the base they moved a floor above.
Scientific reports without any doubt say that vegetables and fruits are necessary for the proper functioning of the body. They provide vitamins, antioxidants (e.g. anthocyanins, carotenoids, polyphenols) and minerals. They protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer, help maintain a healthy body weight, and reduce the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes.
Vegetables and fruit should make up at least half of our daily food, of which ¾ fill with vegetables and ¼ with fruit. Vegetables can be eaten without restrictions, while the amount of fruit should be controlled due to the content of simple sugars.
It is still recommended to consume cereal products, but in smaller quantities. People who love sandwiches can spice up their diet more by partially replacing bread, e.g. with salads. It was also pointed out that the type of cereal consumed is important. Pasta and whole grain bread, cereal and brown rice are recommended.
All these foods – like vegetables and fruits – are a source of fiber, extremely important in the proper functioning of the digestive system and protecting the large intestine against cancer.
The next floor of the pyramid includes milk and its products, e.g. cheese, yogurt and buttermilk. They should be consumed in an amount of at least two glasses of milk or dairy products mainly due to the need to provide calcium and vitamin D. This recommendation remains unchanged from the 2009 pyramid, but high consumption of dairy products is discussed in the medical community. The Harvard School of Public Health recommends consuming no more than two servings of dairy per day and recommending other sources of calcium, such as broccoli, spinach and turnips.
Another fragment of the pyramid that has not changed is located above the dairy protein sources, i.e. fish, meat, eggs and legume seeds. Specialists recommend limiting meat consumption, especially red meat, to 0.5 kg per week. In the diet, they should be replaced with fish, legumes and eggs.
Healthy fats were at the top of the pyramid. In addition to the symbolic oil of the pyramid from 2009, the new version from 2016 also includes nuts. Nuts are a great source of unsaturated fatty acids that contribute to lowering cholesterol, have anticoagulant and antiatherogenic properties. Depending on the variety, eating nuts has many different health benefits. Their placement in the pyramid directly indicates that it is food valuable for health, although high-calorie. At the same time, scientists recommend reducing animal fats such as butter and lard.
Main drink – Water
It is also worth paying attention to the symbols around the pyramid. At the base itself, next to the vegetables, a jug with water was placed. Water should be a main drink during the day. You should drink at least 1.5 liters a day, regularly throughout the day. In the diet, it should replace carton juices and sweet carbonated drinks.
Less sugar and salt, more herbs!
The need to limit sugar and salt, sweetening and adding salt to dishes was clearly emphasized. This is symbolized by crossed-out sugar cubes over coffee and tea and a salt shaker. Sugar added to drinks and dishes is a common problem. It contains a lot of ready-made food products, often not obvious, so read the labels. To maintain good health, you must limit your sugar intake. You can start the easiest way – without adding it to drinks. This is suggested by the recommendations of specialists who advise to exclude sweets from the diet and replace them with fruit and nuts.
Paying attention to salt in the food pyramid can improve consumer awareness and reduce consumption of ‘white death’. Salt has acquired this shameful name because it contributes to raising blood pressure and is responsible for stroke and heart attack.
A novelty in the pyramid is placing an alternative to salt, i.e. herbs. Seasoning dishes with more thyme, tarragon or basil perfectly emphasizes the taste of food, and at the same time helps reduce adding salt. Herbs, however, bring with them not only taste. Fresh and dried is a source of valuable pro-health ingredients. Herbs can accelerate digestion, improve metabolism, support liver cleansing, and even act on the body’s cells to protect and anti-cancer.
10 principles of healthy eating related to the Pyramid of Healthy Eating and Physical Activity
- Eat meals regularly (4-5 meals every 3-4 hours).
- Eat fruit and vegetables as often and as much as possible, at least half of what you eat. Remember the right proportions – 3/4 vegetables, 1/4 fruit.
- Consume cereal products, especially whole grains.
- Drink at least two large glasses of milk. You can replace them with yogurt, kefir and – partly – cheese.
- Limit meat consumption, especially red and processed meat products to 0.5 kg per week. Eat fish, legumes and eggs.
- Limit your animal fat intake. Replace them with vegetable fats.
- Avoid eating sugar and sweets (replace them with fruit and nuts).
- Do not add extra foods and buy products with low salt content. Use herbs – they have valuable ingredients and improve the taste of dishes.
- Remember to drink water, at least 1.5 liters a day.
- Do not drink alcohol.