What is the food pyramid and how it works

What is the food pyramid and how it works post thumbnail image

Nutrition is an aspect that should be customized according to the stage of life you are in, your physicality and your health condition.

This does not mean that there are some indications that the general population can safely apply, based on guidelines drawn up from scientific evidence .

To make the information easily accessible to most, some countries have adopted the food pyramid as a graphic representation of these guidelines, through images and wordings that make its interpretation intuitive.

Searching the web we find dozens of different versions of the food pyramids, even if the indications we get are not always completely correct.

The first was devised in 1992 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), to facilitate the American people to lead a healthy diet: the aim was to offer a simple scheme for understanding which foods to consume and how often .

The Italian version was born in 2005, conceived by a group of experts appointed by the Ministry of Health. The intent was to apply the same principles of the US pyramid, but adapted to the products present in our area and the Mediterranean diet.

Since then, changes have been made to both the graphics and some of the content. In fact, theories on food have changed over time and the food pyramids have changed with them: there are some, for example, in which extra virgin olive oil is placed at the same level as butter, because it is considered as a generic fat, or others that are not distinguish between refined and whole grains, while we now know that discrimination on the basis of the quality of the food and not just of its belonging to a food category is also necessary.

But how do you read a food pyramid?

The concept of the pyramid symbol is that at the base, wider, there are the foods that should be present more in our diet with daily portions (fruit, vegetables, cereals, water), those that we find in the upper levels are from consume with different frequencies during the week (meat, fish, legumes, eggs, dairy products, condiments) while the foods that are at the top are those to be limited as much as possible (sweets, wine). Physical activity is present throughout the pyramid.

Food pyramid and Mediterranean diet

The Italian food pyramid is based on the definition of Wellness Quantity (QB) which indicates which portions of each food group must be consumed so that our diet is varied and balanced and compatible with well-being.

The idea is that with the intake of the recommended portions the Mediterranean food tradition is also respected, avoiding excessive consumption of a single food or the use of few foods that would lead to nutritional imbalances and malnutrition by defect or by excess.

Mediterranean diet: features and benefits

In 2010 the Mediterranean diet was in fact declared an intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO, even if unfortunately what is understood by the majority of the population is not the real Mediterranean diet: especially in Italy there is a tendency to strongly unbalance the subdivision of macronutrients towards carbohydrates, favoring an excessive consumption of pasta, rice, pizza, bread and derivatives.

So even if many Italians are convinced to follow it, the reality is that their food choices are very different and far from the principles of the true Mediterranean diet, which instead promotes the consumption of abundant foods of plant origin such as vegetables, fruit, seeds, whole grains, legumes, olive oil , modest quantities of foods of animal origin, with a preference for blue fish and lean meats, and limited consumption of eggs, red meats, dairy products, wine and sweets.

The main course as an alternative

Nutrition experts from the Harvard School of Public Health created in 2011 a tool that is even simpler to apply: the single dish.

On a visual level it is very effective and impactful, because it explains how to divide our dish into each single meal, and also provides us with information on the quality of food and the frequency of consumption.

The distribution is as follows:

  • ½ of a plate of cooked or raw vegetables and fruit
  • ¼ of the dish with a source of whole carbohydrates
  • ¼ of the plate with a healthy protein source, such as legumes, fish, lean meats and nuts

The indications are completed by some tips, how to consume at least 2-2.5 liters of water per day and healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, limit the consumption of red meats, cheeses and processed meats , avoid trans fats , the consumption of sugar and refined grains and, last but not least, keep yourself physically active.

Some questions and answers on the food pyramid

Is it better to follow the food pyramid or the main course?
Both graphic representations provide us with suggestions, but undoubtedly the main course contains more complete explanations in terms of quality.

Is a single dish suitable for everyone?
It can be as long as there are no particular conditions or pathologies that require a specific distribution of nutrients and food sources. It can also be adapted to a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Can I use the main course at every meal?
Yes, the concept is valid for the three main meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner), to ensure that all the necessary nutrients are introduced and avoid glycemic peaks that could lead to metabolic imbalances in the long run .

In my Potential Nutrition course I explain how to make the single dish part of your routine and create good habits food for live to the best this very important aspect of your life .

Now for you I have made available the video lesson ” The timing of nutrition “, which provides you with valuable scientific information on nutrition, how it works and why you should also look at when you eat.

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