The Food Pyramid – Healthy Breakfast – What Our Body Needs (1)
Starting your day with a healthy breakfast is easy to say. But what is a healthy breakfast? How do we decide what to have and why? This is the first in a series of 3 articles that help understand what your body needs to get off to a great start of your day.
The Food Pyramid
For the last sixty years or so, nutritional guidelines issued by various governments have evolved from the proverbial apple-a-day to the food wheel and have now arrived at various versions of the Food Pyramid.
Food pyramids organize food groups graphically. The food groups are:
- Dairy products
- Meat, fish and beans
Traditionally, the higher up the food group in the pyramid the lower the share of that group should be in your daily calorie consumption.
The most recent version of the food pyramid changed the presentation of the way food groups should be present in your diet. The face of the pyramid is now made up of colored wedges running down from the tip to the base. Each colour represents a food group. The width of the wedge at the base of the pyramid now shows how much of that food group should make up your daily calorie consumption. (You’ll find a link to the food pyramid at the end of this article.)
The most striking, and most welcome innovation in this pyramid is not this reorganization of the food groups. It is the addition of exercise in your daily regime. Nutrition without exercise is only half the solution just as exercise without the right nutrition will generate only limited results. Steps lead up the left side of the pyramid and a person is shown to walk up these steps. You can take this literally: walk up stairs instead of taking the elevator. I’ve talked more about alternative ways to exercise in another article (Wellness — Hoax, Hype Or Real?) The basic recommended level of exercise corresponds to half an hour of brisk walking a day and that does not necessarily have to be done in one go.
The Food Groups
Let’s have a look at the individual food groups now.
Grains are the largest individual group. If we take fruit and vegetable together, though, then this combined group wins hands down. This means that the largest share of our daily calorie intake should be from fruit and vegetable combined, followed by grains, dairy products, then meat, fish and beans, and finally oils, the group that is so small that it hasn’t even got its own label at the foot of the pyramid. It’s the tiny wedge between fruit and milk.
One big omission from this food pyramid is water. Water is vital. And yet, so many people complain that they simply can’t drink so much water.
If someone stood next to them, pointed a loaded gun at their head and told them: “Drink, or else!” Would they drink? Of course, they would. Anybody would. Your life’s at stake. It’s the same when you don’t drink enough. Only when we don’t drink enough, the consequences are long term, not immediate. That’s why we think we can afford to push them into the long grass.
How much is enough? As a general guideline, we need about 1.5 to 2 litres – or 6 to 8 large glasses – per day (depending on climate and on our level of physical activity) to prevent dehydration. Here is an interesting fact: 2% dehydration seriously impairs your power of concentration. How much water do you drink? Did you have a large glass of water immediately when you got out of bed today?
Infants, children and the elderly are more likely to experience dehydration. That’s why they, or their carers, need to pay special attention to their fluid intake.
Because of their calorie content, soft drinks and fruit juices are not good choices for replacing lost fluids, especially if you are working out to try and lose or manage your weight. Try adding just a splash of fruit juice or a slice of lemon or lime to a glass of water if you don’t like the taste of plain water.
The current food pyramid is certainly progress when compared to any of its predecessors. For my money, though, I’d follow the approach taken by another food pyramid any time:
The California Cuisine Pyramid
The California Cuisine Pyramid is at the cutting edge of nutritional science. Its approach broadens the scope of our traditional food pyramid. It is not a food-only pyramid. It provides also a basis to include physical activity, water, and dietary supplement advice. Let’s have a closer look at what it has to offer. (You’ll find a link to the California Cuisine Pyramid is at the end of this article.)
Taste is at the top of the pyramid, because it is the most important element in encouraging food intake. Instead of the dots symbolising hidden fats and oils (in the traditional food pyramid) or just oils in the newer version, the use of natural flavour enhancers is recommended as needed including: avocado, herbs, nuts, olives, seeds, spices (including garlic, chillies, onions, cumin, curry, mustard, peppers), oils rich in monounsaturates and omega-3 fatty acids, and sweeteners (honey, molasses, sugars, sweeteners).
A further step is the inclusion of plant-based protein for balanced nutrition in the 4 to 6 daily servings of protein. Recommendation for protein now includes soy protein, beans and legumes with rice or corn (for plant-based protein) or non-fat dairy products, egg white, poultry, fish/seafood, lean meats (for animal protein). Soy protein is a nutritionally complete protein with great health benefits. Soy protein isolate, an easily absorbable form of soy protein, was given approval for a cholesterol-lowering food claim by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States. It is recommended as a protein balance for meat derived protein in the diet. There is also emerging evidence on the effects of soy protein as an antioxidant and tumour growth inhibitor.
For grain read “wholegrain,” not refined (white) flour, bread, pasta or rice. Choose the “brown” variety and make sure that it’s whole grain and not just whole meal.
The California Cuisine Pyramid also extends the recommended 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day to 5 to 11 servings with a predominance of vegetables over fruit. Broadly speaking, women should eat at least 7 servings while men should eat at least 9 servings (a serving is about a cup of fresh vegetable, a half cup of cooked vegetable, or a half cup of fruit).
Given all this official advice based on cutting edge nutritional science, the next question seems to be almost redundant. But is it?
Should We Take Supplements?
We’ve all heard this lament before:
“Are supplements really necessary? I don’t like taking pills, I get all my nutrients from food.”
Consider this: Even equipped with the best intentions, the right information and sufficient time and money, it is virtually impossible for us to obtain all the nutrients we need just from our daily food alone. Getting the right nutrition is no longer easy.
Agriculture has changed so much during the last 50 years: It has become industrialized; seasonal fruit and vegetable are now kept for excessively long periods in cold storage to make them available throughout the year; soil has become depleted; additives in the soil and in the food require caution in our decisions how much we eat of certain foods; and the jury is still out on the long term impact of genetic manipulation. All these factors certainly have reduced the nutritional density and content of the food we eat. Fresh food simply does not provide us with the amount nutrients we think we are getting. Supplementation is necessary to achieve our goal of optimally balanced nutrition.
Scientific evidence in favor of supplementation has been mounting in the last ten, fifteen years. Supplementation is recommended by the World Health Organization and by numerous physicians. Sadly, all to often people mistake taking nutritional supplements with taking medication because most supplements come as tablets or capsules. The shape of the thing, that is, its method of delivery should not blind us to the fact that to ensure optimum wellness taking supplements has become inevitable.