A couple of days ago, while doing research on Google’s Insights For Search site, I was amazed to discover that the search term “food pyramid” is experiencing a phenomenal growth, up to 80% in the last 90 days. This seemed rather strange and counterintuitive as Google returns over a million and a half pages on food pyramid; Yahoo- a whopping 32 million! If there are so many web pages on the subject, why is that people keep on searching for more information on food pyramids and healthy foods to eat?
I quickly realized that one of the reasons why people are confused is that there are many food pyramids to choose from. The following are just a few examples.
The U.S. government’s USDA Food Guide Pyramid, updated recently and renamed My Pyramid. It offers 12 nutritional and food models geared to different people based on their lifestyle, nutritional, or medical condition needs. The problem is that the government’s efforts, while generally good intentioned, have been quite flawed at actually showing people what makes up a healthy diet. Their recommendations are often based on out-of-date science and influenced by people with business interests in their messages.
Our favorite, the Healthy Eating Pyramid, was developed by the Harvard Medical School, and is an advanced version of the traditional food guide pyramid developed by the USDA, which even though recently improved, is still not quite accurate. Based on the latest science in Nutrition and Medicine, the Health Eating Pyramid is a straightforward and sound guide to choosing a healthy diet. Unaffected by business and commercial interests, its foundation is daily exercise and weight control, since these two related elements strongly influence your chances of staying healthy. The Healthy Eating Pyramid builds from there, showing that you should eat more foods from the bottom part of the pyramid (vegetables, whole grains) and less from the top (red meat, refined grains).
The Healthy Eating Pyramid sits on a foundation of daily exercise and weight control. These two related elements strongly influence your chances of staying healthy and your odds of getting sick. They affect what and how you eat and how your food affects you.
A well-balanced meal should consist of 40 to 50% carbohydrate calories, 20 to 25% of the total calories should come from protein source and 25 to 30% of the total calories should come from a healthy source of fat. Most people find counting calories and grams of fat cumbersome and somewhat annoying. I very much agree. Thus, comparing your dietary intake with one of the food pyramids, may make your life much easier while helping you keep track of the nutrients you get and the gaps you need to bridge. It further allows you to be flexible in what you eat, as you do not need to follow ridged programs.
The Mediterranean food pyramid and diet is considered a low fat, yet high-energy diet; it is a proven way to permanently improve long-term health. Bread is a major part of this diet and it is in many parts mainly eaten in the form of pita bread. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, pasta, rice and seeds are important components. Olive oil accompanies most meals, as it is a main ingredient in food preparation. Dairy products are consumed in low to moderate amounts in the form of cheese and yogurt. Animal proteins are included, but are eaten in lesser amounts compared to plant proteins. Chicken, lamb, fish and goat are the main animal sources.
The cuisine known as the Mediterranean Diet has been popular for centuries and has been gaining the respect of doctors and nutritionists for its healthful benefits. As recently as June 2003 a study involving 22,043 adults in Greece was printed in the New England Journal of Medicine. It concluded that: “… adherence to the traditional (eastern) “Mediterranean Diet” is associated with a significant reduction in mortality.” If eaten with portion control it can lead to weight loss as well.
Also, an interesting aspect of the Mediterranean food pyramid is that it offers its own food pyramid for children, similarly to the Latin American Food Pyramid, by replacing wine with an increased intake of milk, juices, and water.
Unlike the customary Western style of quickly eating large portions, the Mediterranean diet places great emphasis on spending time on preparing and enjoying tasty meals that consist of various small components.
So with all these choices of food pyramids, how do we choose and plan for eating healthy foods? The answer is simple- moderation and balance in nutrition are of utmost importance. The nutritional reality is that our bodies need the proper mix and balance of nutrients, including fats, vitamins, minerals, etc. If we cut on anyone of them, or overdose on others, our bodies receive less than optimal and balanced nutrients and, as a result, increasing the likelihood of diseases.