In honor of recognizing March as National Nutrition Month, why not take a moment to look at the new face of the Food Pyramid and refresh your nutritional knowledge.
Undergoing a face-lift in 2005, the new food pyramid now sports vertically arranged, color-coded stripes, which are sized relative to the recommended amount of food from that group that should be in a well-balanced diet. You can find a picture of the new food pyramid at www.mypyramid.gov.
According to Cathy Nonas, MS, RD, Nutritionist at North General Hospital in Harlem, New York, "There was nothing wrong with the old pyramid, except that it left too much open for interpretation; the new pyramid is more specific and more reflective of what the guidelines actually say."
Despite the pyramid look being different, the food groups themselves should be familiar. The five food groups are: Grains, Vegetables, Fruits, Milk and Meat & Beans. Although oil is not considered a food group, it is included in the food pyramid, appearing as a yellow stripe due to its importance in rationed portions to the daily diet.
The Grains group is the largest on the pyramid and is broken down into two subgroups: Whole and refined. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel. Examples include whole-wheat flour, bulgur, oatmeal, whole cornmeal and brown rice. Refined grains are milled to provide finer texture. The milling process removes the bran and germ from the grain and, in so doing, strips away important dietary fiber, iron and B vitamins. Enriched refined grains have B vitamins and iron added back into them after processing, and are the healthier choice if you eat refined grains. According to Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, from WebMD.com, “A diet rich in whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancer.”
The Vegetables group is broken down into five subgroups based on their nutrient content: Dark green vegetables including spinach and romaine lettuce; starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn; orange vegetables such as carrots and butternut squash; dry beans and peas including kidney and black beans and other vegetables, which includes zucchini, asparagus, cucumbers, tomatoes, cauliflower, mushrooms and vegetable juices. An average adult between the ages of 20 and 50 should consume between two and three cups of vegetables a day.
The Fruits group includes subdivisions like berries, melons and citrus, but also individual fruits like apples, pears, pineapple, etc. Fruit is an important source of potassium, vitamin C and dietary fiber. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov), incorporating adequate servings of fruits and vegetables is extremely important. “Fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber that may help protect you from chronic diseases. Compared with people who consume a diet with only small amounts of fruits and vegetables, those who eat more generous amounts as part of a healthful diet are likely to have reduced risk of chronic diseases including stroke and perhaps other cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers.”
The Milk group is broken down into four subgroups: Milk; cheese including hard, soft and processed cheeses; yogurt and milk-based desserts like pudding and ice cream. For a healthier diet, individuals are encouraged to choose fat-free or low-fat milk products instead of whole milk. Sweetened products like flavored milk or ice cream should be consumed in moderation. Information provided by the ADVANCE for Nurse Practitioners and Physicians Assistants website (http://nurse-practitioners-and-physician-assistants.advanceweb.com/) reports that “a combination of nutrients in dairy products such as calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus are important for bone health…Dairy may help with weight management…and the combination of nutrients in dairy foods also reduces the risk of hypertension.”
The Meat & Beans group contains six subgroups: Meat including examples like beef, venison and pork; poultry including turkey and chicken; eggs; dry beans and peas such as chickpeas, lentils and soybeans; nuts and seeds including almonds, peanuts and sunflower seeds and fish with subdivisions including finfish like haddock and tuna, shellfish like crab and clams and canned fish. According to mypyramid.gov, most Americans already consume enough of this food group daily and actually could benefit from making leaner choices and in a wider variety in order to get the various nutrients that the different meats offer: “Proteins [found in the meat group] function as building blocks for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. They are also building blocks for enzymes, hormones and vitamins.”
To find more information about the new Food Pyramid, get a personalized dietary plan, analyze your current eating habits and much more, visit www.mypyramid.gov. There’s still no time like the present to brush up on healthy eating and work toward a healthier you.