How to Use the Food Pyramid to Your Advantage: What to Eat
Most healthy food guides allow us to simplify the complex set of decisions we make every day as we figure out what, when, and how much food we should be eating. To provide Americans with clear advice and simple guidance about what to eat, the federal government works through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop and edit a colorful, easy-to-read diagram which, until recently, was called the “food pyramid”. Years ago, this diagram was a just a square divided into four equal blocks called “food groups”. This old model organized most healthy food into the broad categories of meat, grain, fruits and vegetables, and dairy products.
Since the appearance of the four food groups a few generations ago, volumes of studies have been conducted in order to better understand the effect of food and nutrition on our health. And as the results of these studies become available, the USDA food diagram is changed and updated to reflect the nuances of this research in readable ways that all of us can understand.
Even now, the food pyramid is undergoing a change. The current USDA diagram now looks more like a dinner plate with quadrants showing recommended proportions of the most healthy food choices and is being called the “My Plate” model. But regardless of the shape the diagram takes, the principles of the food pyramid are still strong and can still be used to help us decide what to eat and what to feed our children. The biggest step in using the food pyramid is to change your habits from bad ones to good ones.
Choosing What to Eat: A Guide to the Most Healthy Food
The classic food pyramid graphic is a triangle with bands of color moving from the top to the base in a circus-tent style. The wider the band of color, the higher the recommended daily intake of foods from that category.
The widest band on the left side of the triangle represents unprocessed carbohydrates. Most healthy foods in this category are made from whole grains and include bread, pasta, oatmeal and rice.
The green section is dedicated to vegetables, including roots and tubers, leafy green vegetables and colorful, non-sweet plants like tomatoes and avocados (even if some of these are botanically classified as fruits.)
The red area of the food pyramid represents fruits, which include seed bearing and typically sweet plant foods like berries, stone fruits, citrus fruits, bananas and apples.
The blue section of the food pyramid represents dairy products and has led to some controversy, since many people throughout the world are lactose intolerant and their lifestyles suggest that milk is overrepresented on the food pyramid, possibly due to pressure on the USDA from American milk producers. All the same, dairy products like milk and cheese can provide nutrients like calcium, protein and necessary fats, and are still listed among the most healthy food categories. This category also includes calcium rich foods like yogurt.
The narrow yellow section of the food pyramid represents healthy, unsaturated fats, which are vital in small amounts to keep our brains and body tissues functioning properly. The foods in this group include butter, nut oils, fish oil and oils from certain plants like avocados.
The purple area of the food pyramid represents “meat and beans”, and has also been a source of some disagreement, since it does not differentiate between the value of various protein rich foods. Meat alone can offer vastly different health benefits (and even some health risks) depending on which part of what animal it came from. And meat, beans, eggs, nuts and soy products arguably have little in common, though they all offer important sources of protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12.
Using the Food Pyramid to Build Healthy Habits
The food pyramid may have a few flaws, some of which have been ironed out in the transition to the “My Plate” food diagram. But the basic principles behind these colorful charts are the same, and they both encourage us to lean toward the most healthy food choices. Even with these charts in hand, we still have to navigate our own decisions about what to eat. But the charts encourage us to keep two important principles in mind: servings and balance. They help us become a little more conscious of how much we’re eating and how much attention we’re paying to each category.
What to Eat: Balance and Serving Sizes
What balance actually looks like will depend on a few individual factors like our size, age, level of activity and general health. But for the most part, a balanced diet will fall under about 2000 calories per day divided into about three to five small meals with minimal snacking in between. The balanced foods we choose will be supplemented with about 8 daily glasses of water, juice or low fat milk. Variety is important, and if we make sure our food choices cover each of the most healthy food categories, we’ll maximize the benefits of each group, even if we haven’t yet fully discovered what all those benefits are. We’ll also be able to avoid the nutritional deficiencies that may develop if we lean too heavily on one category to the exclusion of others.
It’s important to keep in mind that the food pyramid and the My Plate diagram are designed for healthy people with no specific sensitivities, diseases or existing deficiencies. It’s also a good idea to recognize that no diagram or simple guideline can give us perfect information or tell us exactly what to eat. If you encounter confusion in your search for the most healthy foods, check in with more than one resource. Lean toward variety and frequent change. And try to think about how you feel a few minutes after you eat something. If you feel good, chances are you made a good choice. If you don’t, remember that feeling the next time you face a similar decision about what to eat. Also, anyone cooking for a family needs to read this article about how to cook healthy for your kids.
Using this information to supplement your diet will help to change your lifestyle and supplement your workout results as well. Combine your healthy eating habits with a workout routine using Kbands, KB PowerBands, and KB Duo to start seeing results now!