At some point when we all become adults, we start paying attention to what we are putting in our mouths and how we are treating our bodies. Life doesn’t last forever and staying around in the healthiest way is something that I always try to pay attention to.
We all remember learning about the Four Food Groups in school and the basics of good nutrition. As a kid, candy and chocolate were more important to me than the idea of a food pyramid explanation to keep your body healthy and nourished properly.
There have been several different versions of the famed Food Pyramid published in the past 30 years. The Food Pyramid was designed to visually demonstrate and focus on the basics of affordable nutrition for the masses. Its general guidelines are meant to be an example of healthy eating. The Pyramid simply lays out what groups of foods are recommended at what amounts per day to maintain optimal health, avoid obesity and chronic illnesses.
We all remember learning about the basic food groups, although I always wished the sugar and sweets section was a bit larger. I know just as well as anyone that eating a whole bag of potato chips in front of the tv is not the healthiest option. But, we are all human. A big bowl of broccoli and my favorite show just isn’t always my “go-to” choice.
Let’s take a no-nonsense look at the breakdown of the classic food pyramid explanation in all its glory. All the basics are included in no matter what format you look at for reference and the breakdown is essentially the same.
The largest group is naturally at the bottom with Grains and progressively moves upwards. The higher in the pyramid that you go the smaller the portions necessary become. There are six consistent areas that we will take a closer look at including Dairy, Meats, Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, and Oils/Sweets.
Food Pyramid Explanation
Let’s see how many micronutrients and macronutrients are recommendable to eat to stay healthy according to the food pyramid.
If I could get away with just eating fresh-baked bread and cheese as a full meal, I would be in heaven. Fortunately, bread, whole grain cereals, rice, and pasta are all in the family of grains. The Pyramid recommends 4-6 servings of Grains per day or the equivalent of 3 ounces.
Whole grains generally have more nutritional value so they are a wiser choice over any bleached or white products. Whole grains are an important source of carbohydrates that your body needs for energy. So never feel bad about loading up on some crackers, whole wheat pasta favorites, or fresh bread.
Veggies got a bad rap when I was growing up. In my house, everything was boiled, which is ok unless you like to have any taste in your vegetables. Learning different ways to cook a variety of vegetables has really opened my mind and taste buds to the endless variety of deliciousness out there.
Vegetables are so important as a low-calorie part of a healthy diet. They provide numerous vitamins and minerals that are vital to keeping our bodies running in good condition.
Don’t be afraid to mix it up and try new things. The more variety of vegetables that you can squeeze into the recommended 3-5 servings the better off you will be. Keep in mind that most vegetables in the broccoli family are also high in iron and calcium when you are looking for something different for a side dish.
Nature’s dessert. Sweet, juicy, and low in calories, the fruit is the next group of foods on the pyramid to enjoy. With an endless amount of choices from apples, bananas, grapes, and oranges, it is easy to have a bit of fruit with each meal.
I often associate certain fruits with the seasons. Apples in the fall, watermelon in the summer, and fruit smoothies all year round. It is important to mix it up with your fruit as well. There are so many delicious choices out there, it should be easy to get your recommended 2 cups minimum a day.
Even when you are in a hurry, try adding juice instead of water or soda to your meal. One cup of any type of fruit juice is the same as eating one whole piece of fruit. Strawberry banana and mango peach are two of my absolute favorites.
Who doesn’t like a cold glass of milk with some cookies? I know it’s one of my favorites. Some folks don’t tolerate dairy very well or have a restricted diet that keeps them away from most dairy products, however, it is still an important part of the Food Pyramid.
Sources of dairy like milk (cow/goat), yogurts, and cheese are vital sources of calcium, protein, and Vitamins A & D. If you are looking for a lower saturated fat option there are many skim milk product options available instead of cutting out the entire food group.
It used to be recommended that an average adult have at least three servings per day of dairy. Now, with the restructuring of the pyramid in recent years, that number has dropped down to 2 servings.
Meat & Beans
I don’t think that I could ever jump on the vegan or vegetarian wagon personally. I know there are so many people that have adopted that lifestyle, but I just couldn’t give up the occasional steak.
Meat and beans are one of the smaller groups in the upper area of the Food Pyramid, so the recommended consumption is smaller at just 8 ounces per day.
Beef, chicken, pork, fish, and eggs are all excellent sources of protein, iron, and zinc. There are options out there for those living a meat-free life that includes a huge variety of beans, eggs, nuts, tofu, and various chickpea creations.
Leaner options in meat are recommended if you are watching your fat intake. Bacon, cold cuts, and red meats can be easily substituted with something else on our list to keep the calories down.
Sweets & Oils
Ahh, sugar. It’s the monkey on everyone’s back. The good news is that succulent oils and sweets are also a small part of the Food Pyramid. We are only talking about one small serving a day though, as it is at the very top of the triangle. Be careful when adding salad dressings, rich cooking oils, butter/margarine, soft drinks, or candy into your diet. Everything in moderation.
Next time you have a craving, go for a low-fat option of ice cream or sugar-free candies. There are lots of ways to monitor your calorie intake like cooking with healthier oils (olive or canola) or limiting your butter intake to cooking only. Either way, there is no need to completely give up your sweet treats, just watch the portion size and keep it to the recommended amount.
There are fans and haters of the Food Pyramid Explanation, even though it has survived as a healthy guideline for so many years. Large food manufacturers that use preservatives, artificial ingredients and a ton of sugars would have you believe that the Pyramid is out of date.
When it comes down to what is best for regular consumption, the Food Pyramid is the best example to follow. There are reasons why our bodies need to consume different types of foods.
Variety is the spice of life for us all. No one really enjoys having to starve themselves or deprive yourself of some of your favorite comfort foods. If you start following the Food Pyramid guidelines you will soon find endless variety in your everyday meals and be able to simply maintain a healthy diet. Getting back to the basics couldn’t be easier!