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An Introduction to the Food Pyramid

By: Leigh Sexton - Updated: 20 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Food Pyramid Calories Food Servings

The food pyramid is a simple, visual way of ensuring you and your family get the best nutrition on a daily basis. As the pyramid is a picture, rather than text, it is easy to remember the proportions of each of the six food groups it contains, and it requires no weighing or measuring of foods, so it simplifies the preparation of meals by allowing a rough and ready guide to good nutrition.

How Does the Food Pyramid Work?

The pyramid is a diagram, divided into four parts horizontally. The largest part is the bottom section, which extends to a quarter of the height of the pyramid, and contains rice, cereals, pasta and bread adding up to between 6 - 11 daily servings.

The next quarter is divided into two equal sections, on the left is the vegetable section of 3 - 5 servings a day, and on the right the fruit section of 2 - 4 servings daily.

Above this is the third quarter, also divided in two: on the left is milk, yoghurts and cheeses comprising 2 - 3 servings, on the right is the section for meat, poultry, fish, dried beans, nuts and eggs, also adding up to 2 - 3 daily servings.

At the very top is the small section for sweets, fats and oils which should be served sparingly.

Breaking Down the Food Pyramid

Once you have a clear picture of the pyramid (perhaps pinning it up on your fridge door as a regular reminder) you can use it to shape your daily food intake.

The largest part of the pyramid, for example, contains foods that are high in fibre and B vitamins and also high in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the most readily available source of the energy we need in our daily lives. A 'serving' is roughly one slice of bread, one ounce of packet cereal, or half a tea-cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta.

The fruit section contains foods rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals but low in calories. They are often very high in vitamin C which is not stored by the body and is essential for good health. A serving counts as one medium-sized piece of fresh fruit or half a tea-cup of chopped, cooked or canned fruit, or three-quarters of a tea-cup of fruit juice. It's important to be aware that you can't simply have fruit juice though, as the fibre and mineral content of fruit is largely removed by the juicing process.

The partner section to fruit is vegetables, which are also rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre and low in calories. A serving is one cup of raw leafy vegetables like salad or cabbage, half a tea-cup of cooked or tinned vegetables, or three-quarters of a tea-cup of vegetable juice. And once again, vegetable juice doesn't contain all the goodness of fresh or cooked vegetables because it is low in fibre.

The dairy products group delivers calcium and protein along with vital vitamins such as A, B2, B12 and D, but can be high in fat. If you are over sixteen it's a good idea to select low-fat milk and yoghurt, but small children need the fats in full-fat dairy products to support their rapid growth. Serving sizes are one and a half ounces of natural cheese and 8 ounces of milk or yogurt.

Next to dairy is the section for meats and other foods rich in protein, iron, and zinc. Women are often low in iron and should ensure they eat something from this section daily. Serving sizes are two to three ounces of cooked meat, poultry or fish, one egg, or two tablespoons of peanut butter.

Sugars and fats, at the top of the pyramid, are high in calories but have little nutritional value because they lack vitamins and minerals. These foods may be sweets, soft drinks, sugars, oils, creams, butter, margarine, mayonnaise, and salad dressings and should be consumed in small amounts.

Using The Food Pyramid To Eat Better

Eating better is a subjective term, and for everybody 'better' can have a different meaning. For some of us it's more nutritious food, or it might be food that helps us lose weight, for others it's the food that allows us to manage conditions like diabetes or wheat intolerance, while many of us want to have more interesting and varied meals, that don't take too long to cook or cost too much.

Whatever your needs or desires, you can use the food pyramid to help you achieve your aims. By understanding the food groups and their relative amounts in your daily diet you can create healthy menus that balance your nutrition levels and allow you to function at your best.

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