Healthy Eating. The Pyramid of Food

Until recently a healthy diet was synonymous with a balanced diet to provide us with the needed proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, as well as vitamins and minerals. It was believed that this ensured a sufficient flow of the vital energy to our cells and tissues as well as all the necessary nutrients preventing the development of “deficit” diseases such as, a-or hypovitaminosis. 

However our knowledge has grown significantly and the modern concept of nutrition stresses the need for a more informed choice of foods, quantities, the correct methods of cooking and a reasonable diet. All this together helps improve our health and reduce the risk of developing dangerous conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, or type 2 diabetes.

Of course, we still need that balance of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, but as it is known that some of them are much better than others, we must learn how to make choices!

It has been proved, that there are «good» fats beneficial to health and «bad» ones undermining it. Such an assertion is also true for carbohydrates. It is a bit more complicated with proteins, but there are some preferred ones on the list as well.

The good news is that all the above is easy to learn meaning that our diet can be nourishing and beneficial to health as well as being enjoyable. This will not only increase our chances for a long quality life but also has the complimentary bonus of reducing excess weight which in itself can be a source of great joy to many. 

To aid our understanding the scientists developed a food pyramid to make it easier to choose from a variety of foods to get the needed nutrients.

At the base of the pyramid you will see the most «healthy» products which are an important source of energy, in the middle are other necessary and useful foods that we use in smaller portions, while the «harmful» products are placed on top to symbolize their rare usage. Though in my opinion we should stay away from them completely!

A smart idea was to put the symbols of physical activities on the food pyramid to remind us of the most important components of true health.

There are different versions of the Visual Pyramid but all encompass the same concept.

I offer you my version. 

Any building, including the pyramid, is built on a foundation. The best foundation for the food Pyramid is increased physical activity. In the future I will deal with this in more detail, but for now will emphasize that 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day is the minimum to achieve any good results. 

At the base of the pyramid lie breads, grains and cereals, mostly wholegrain, that we’ll eat when hungry and they provide a mix of carbohydrates which can be used with each meal. 

On the second floor we see vegetables (any and in large quantities) and fruits (2-3 times a day) but keep in mind that sweet fruits are rich in calories, and need to be consumed in reasonable amounts. 

Immediately above there are beans – another source of protein and fiber. Right next to these are nuts which are extremely useful products but being high in calories they should be treated as «decorations» of your diet and used sparingly. 

The next floor is extremely important – it is made of «good» unsaturated vegetable fats. As an example, I will mention olive oil. Add them in small quantities and your meal will be not only useful but also very tasty. 

As a non-vegetarian, I cannot urge you to reject foods of animal origin but you should consider carefully what you eat. Meat contains proteins and their constituents, amino acids, that are essential for maintaining good health. Just think of the type of meat, its method of cooking and make the right choices. A good example is fatless and skinless chicken which is much better than a fatty red meat. It should be understood that due to the fact that meat contains «bad» saturated fats, it is not advisable to eat large portions of it. The best advice is to make meat just a component of your diet rather than the central element and replace it with fish at least twice a week. 

The so-called «red» meats should be used sparingly. As they are located on top of the pyramid treat them as an exception if you do not want to deprive yourself of them totally. 

But what should be discarded completely are the sausages, fatty ham, bacon and other concentrates of saturated fats. Besides these, the top of the Pyramid is crowned with refined carbohydrates – sugar and other sweets. Try to gradually (if you can do it at once – even better) remove them from your dining table, and positive results will soon come!

We have not yet dealt with the milk and dairy products. The experts’ views on this subject differ because these products contain a lot of saturated fats. In my opinion we should not avoid low-fat, skimmed dairy products, as they are a good a source of calcium and essential proteins. I place them in the useful food part of the Pyramid with the proviso that we should always use them in reasonable amounts. By the way the proviso of ‘reasonable amounts’ should never be forgotten!

Later we will discuss different groups of foods, with particular emphasis on complex carbohydrates with low glycemic index. We’ll talk about alcohol, salt, margarine and many more but the overall scheme is reflected in the Pyramid of Food. 

Actually there are various Pyramids of Food, each reflecting regional and social differences. It is hard to believe that people from Morocco eat the same food as we do or that Indian eating habits are similar to those of Mexicans. Also there are pyramids developed for kids and mature people, for patients suffering from certain deseases, like the one for diabetics. I will tell you about some of them in the future. 

By: Jan Filler

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