The Healthy Eating Pyramid is a food pyramid that focuses on diet and health. This food pyramid was developed by the Harvard School of Public Health and is based on scientific evidence on the links between diet and health. The Harvard School of Public Health offers information to help you make better choices about how to eat. Let’s find out what this food pyramid is all about, from the base and up.
(View a larger PDF image of the food pyramid, in a separate window.)
Daily Exercise & Weight Control
The Healthy Eating Pyramid has a picture of “Daily Exercise and Weight Control” on its base, showing that these two related elements strongly influence your chances of staying healthy. They also affect what you eat and how your food affects you. Exercise and weight control are also linked through the simple rule of energy balance; that you will gain weight if you eat more than you burn. By exercising regularly it will help you control your weight and it is the key part of any weight loss effort.
Vegetables and Fruits
Vegetables and fruits take up a big section of the food pyramid, showing their importance. Vegetables and fruits are rich in color and taste. They add variety to your diet and are a feast for the eyes, but they can do even more for you. By eating a lot of vegetables and fruits everyday you will gain the possibility to stay healthy throughout your life. You will create a beneficial habit that may: lower your blood pressure, reduce your risks of having cardiovascular diseases and cancer, protect you from losing your vision when you are getting older and also help you from having diverticulitis (intestinal ailment).
Healthy Fats and Oils
The Healthy Eating Pyramid puts the fats and oils near the base which is a bit different and unconventional if you compare to other food pyramids, but it makes sense. They are inline with the evidence: unsaturated fats are healthy fats. They don’t improve cholesterol levels and they can protect against heart problems. Putting the fats and oils near the base is also in line with common eating habits since the average American gets about one-third of its daily calories from fat. This is why it is so important to eat healthy fats. Healthy fats can be found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, avocados and fatty fish like salmon.
You need carbohydrates for energy and whole grain is the best source, which the food pyramid illustrates. Research suggests that we should eat a diet rich in whole grains because it helps controlling our blood sugar and insulin levels from rising and falling too quickly. The reason for this is that the body can’t digest whole grains as quickly as with processed carbohydrates such as white bread. By eating whole grains you won’t feel hungry that often, which will have a positive effect on your weight. It may also prevent the development of type 2 diabetes and protect you against heart diseases. Whole grains can be found in oatmeal, whole bread and brown rice.
Nuts, Seeds, Beans and Tofu
The Healthy Eating Pyramid shows the importance of eating nuts, seeds, beans and tofu. They are all rich in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Many kinds of nuts contain healthy fats and vitamin E. Research has even suggested that they are good for your heart especially: almonds, walnuts, pecans, peanuts, hazelnuts, and pistachios.
Fish, Poultry and Eggs
Fish, poultry and eggs are included in the food pyramid because they are rich in protein. Chicken and turkey are also good sources of protein and are low in saturated fat. Research suggests that you can reduce the risk of heart disease if you eat fish rich in omega-3 fats. Salmon, trout and herring are especially high in omega-3 fatty acids. Eggs have been said to be bad for your health because they are high in cholesterol, but if you compare it to a doughnut made from refined flour and cooked in oil (rich in trans fat), eating an egg for breakfast is a much healthier alternative. If you have diabetes or heart disease you should not eat more than 3 eggs (egg yolk) a week. The egg whites are fine though; they are rich in protein and a fine substitute in omelets and baking.
Dairy (1 to 2 servings per day) or Vitamin D/Calcium Supplements
If you want to grow and have strong bones you need Vitamin D, Calcium and exercise, according to the Healthy Eating Pyramid. You will get most of vitamin D and Calcium from your dairy but sometimes it’s not enough. For example: If you drink one glass of milk you will get 100 IU (International Units) of vitamin D but you need at least 1,000 IU every day. The answer to that problem should logically be to drink more milk or eat more dairy products, but if you drink three glasses of whole milk you will get as much saturated fat as 13 strips of cooked bacon! So what is the solution if you want to stay healthy and in control of your weight? How can you get enough vitamins and minerals without getting too much of the unhealthy saturated fat? The solution to this dilemma is to stick to no- or low-fat dairy products. If you don’t get enough vitamin D and Calcium from the dairy products, you should consider taking vitamin D and calcium supplement, according to Healthy Eating Pyramid.
Use Sparingly: Red Meat and Butter
To the left at the top of the Healthy Eating Pyramid you will find red meat and butter. It has the smallest section of the food pyramid because you should eat less red meat and butter. Red meat and butter contain lots of saturated fat and may increase your risk of colon cancer. Instead, if you switch to eating fish, chicken or beans more often and switch from butter to olive oil, it can improve your cholesterol levels as well as the overall condition of your heart health, according to Healthy Eating Pyramid.
Use Sparingly: Refined Grains (White Bread, Rice, Pasta), Potatoes, Sugary Drinks, Sweets, Salt
The reason why refined grains, potatoes, sugary drinks, sweets and salt are placed at the top of the Healthy Eating Pyramid (together with red meat and butter), is that you should eat/drink very little of this kind of products. They increase blood sugar levels, making you feel hungry quickly with the results that you eat more and gain more weight. It may also cause diabetes and other chronic disorders. A new addition to the Healthy Eating Pyramid is that it says “Use Sparingly” next to the salt shaker. Research has found that high-sodium diets increase risk of health problems causing heart attack and stroke.
Multivitamin with Extra Vitamin D (for most people)
If you look to the left of the Healthy Eating Pyramid you will find a bottle of multivitamin and multimineral supplement, emphasizing vitamin D. It is not suggested to replace a healthy diet, rather fill in the nutrient holes that sometimes occur.
There are supplements that don’t cost a lot of money that will do just fine. Look for a multivitamin that meets the requirements of the USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia), an organization that sets standards for drugs and supplements. Then look for the standard RDA-level (Recommended Dietary/Daily Allowance) which will be enough for most nutrients, except for perhaps vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for your bones and new research even suggest that some extra vitamin D (1,000 IU per day) can help lower the risk of colon and breast cancer. People who live in the northern parts during winter or have darker skin will need extra vitamin D (3,000-4,000 IU per day). Ifyou are unsure, ask your doctor to check your blood level.
Optional: Alcohol in Moderation (not for everyone)
A bottle of wine is placed next to the food pyramid to point out that consumption of alcohol is optional. According to studies the risk of heart diseases may reduce if you have a moderate amount of alcoholic drink. In general however, the risks of drinking, even in moderation, exceed benefits until middle age. Women should avoid alcohol during pregnancy.
In 2011, a Healthy Eating Plate was introduced by the Harvard School of Public Health to “fix the flaws” in the USDA’s MyPlate, in the same way that the Healthy Eating Pyramid did with the old MyPyramid. The concern with MyPyramid was that it was influenced by people with business interests in the messages the icons sent.
The Healthy Eating Plate and the Healthy Eating Pyramid is said to be based on the latest science on how diet and physical activity choices affect our health. The graphical illustrations and dietary guidelines by the Harvard School of Public Health are not affected by any organization or business, which means that no one has any stake in their messages.
Which illustration should you use? Well, both the food pyramid and the new plate mode comes with valuable information. Choose the one you prefer, see print materials below.