A healthy diet comprises of foods which help us to stay fit. It should provide required nutrients such as fluids, proteins, carbohydrates, fatty acids and minerals to the body. A typical healthy diet is often represented in the form of a pyramid, which is further divided into several components. Several agencies and international organizations have had their own versions of the diet pyramid. Most of these versions of food pyramid were based on obsolete science and did not actually show people how the choices of food affected their health. Moreover they were influenced by the interests of business and certain organizations.
Nearly two decades ago, USDA developed a food guide pyramid, which was taught in schools and accepted world-wide. Unfortunately, this model failed to provide facts about connection between diet and health. The model was later replaced by the ‘Healthy eating pyramid’ which was developed by the Harvard School of Public Health. This diet guide gives the best evidence about the connection between diet and health. It helps people to make correct choices about which food to eat. The foundation of this pyramid is made of ‘weight-management’ and ‘exercise’ because these two elements play an important role in keeping our body healthy.
Elements of The Healthy Eating Pyramid
- Stay Active: This pyramid sits on the base of exercise and weight-management because a regular exercise routine can help us keep calories in control. Whenever we exercise, we use a portion of calories present in the food we consume. However, if we do not exercise and use the calories, our body will store it in the form of abnormal fat.
- Vegetables and fruits: Half of your plate should be full of vegetables and fruits. A diet rich in vegetables and fruits decreases the chance of heart-attack and protects against certain cancers. It lowers blood-pressure, protects your eyes against cataracts and macular degeneration.
- Whole grains: Our body needs carbohydrates primarily for energy. Whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice and whole wheat breads are the best sources of carbohydrates. These have bran and germ layer in addition to starch which is rich in energy. When we eat whole grain foods, it is digested slowly which keeps our insulin levels in control. Controlled insulin levels decrease the risk of type-2 diabetes. According to a latest study, plate rich in carbs may also help to protect against cardiovascular problems.
- Healthy Fats and oils: The Healthy Eating Pyramid has placed some fats near the foundation which is quite unconventional as per the wisdom. However, it has particularly mentioned ‘healthy’ oils and fats and not all types. It is seen that an average American gets nearly 1/3rd of his energy from fats, so keeping this element near the base makes sense. Consuming healthy unsaturated oils such as olive, soy, peanut, sunflower, corn and other vegetable oils can help to improve cholesterol levels and protect us from heart ailments.
- Nuts, beans, seeds and tofu: All these are plant foods which are rich sources of fibers, proteins, vitamins and minerals. Black beans, lentils, navy beans and other beans are can be incorporated in daily diet. Having a handful of nuts daily such as almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts and pistachios can save you from several heart ailments.
- Fish, poultry and eggs: Fish, poultry and eggs are rich in protein which can minimize the risk of getting heart disease. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids which are heart friendly fats. Having an egg in breakfast is a healthier option than having a doughnut rich in trans-fats or having a pancake made of refined flour. People with heart ailments and diabetes should restrict the consumption of egg yolk to not more than 3 times a week. Eggs whites can be used in place of whole eggs in baking and making omelets.
- Dairy, Vitamin D and calcium supplements: Dairy products form an important part of people’s diet and it helps in building strong bones. An average person needs 1,000IU of vitamin D daily. You can get calcium from milk and cheese which contain lot of saturated fat. Hence if you enjoy dairy products, restrict yourself to fat-free or low-fat dairy products. If you do not like milk or cheese, you must take vitamin D and calcium supplements.
- Red meat and butter: These two products sit at the top of Healthy Eating Pyramid because these are rich in saturated fats. Consuming lot of red meat can increase the risk of colon cancer. You can replace butter with olive oil. If you eat red meat every day, switching to chicken, beans and fish several times a week can improve your cholesterol levels.
The Healthy Eating Pyramid is a simple and flexible diet which offers plenty of food choices for everyone. Even a vegetarian can follow this healthy diet plan by accentuating on plant sources, beans and nuts. This pyramid does not stress on ounces or cups, but it focuses on quality.