When it comes to food, healthy choices and eating right are important. To help you in your daily decisions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture created the Food Pyramid. The pyramid is designed to show you what kinds of foods you need and how much. It shows you the nutrients your body needs along with suggested serving sizes, daily calorie intakes, and how much fats and sugars you can safely consume.
In 2005, due to the rising concern of overweight Americans, the USDA changed the Food Pyramid. They wanted Americans to eat healthier and be more aware of what kinds of foods were good for them. The USDA even released a special Food Pyramid for children.
The Goal Of The Food Pyramid
The main focus of the new Food Pyramid is weight control. Over the past decade, it has become apparent that Americans are having trouble with weight gain. Studies show that one out of five Americans are overweight. To help address this issue, the new Food Pyramid offers information on a balanced diet along with the correct proportions according to age, sex, and activity levels, and to put limits on certain foods.
What Are The Categories Of The Food Pyramid
An important base to any diet, grains provide carbohydrates which is a primary source of fuel for the body. This category includes foods like bread, cereal, pasta, and rice. According to the Food Pyramid, the grain category is divided into two groups:
- Whole grains: These are the entire kernels with bran and germ that contain fiber and vitamin B. They have not been processed and contain more of the original nutrients.
- Refined grains: These are grains in which the whole kernel of bran and germ have been removed.
Grains are essential to any low-fat diet and most people need around 6 to 11 servings of grains a day. Whole grain foods are better for you as they contain more fiber and minerals than refined grains.
Fruits And Vegetables
The second level on the pyramid, fruits and vegetables are necessary for nutrition. They are rich in minerals, vitamins A and C, folate, and potassium. Fruits and vegetables also contain anti-oxidants which are essential for a healthy immune system. The Food Pyramid suggests that men and women have at least two cups or servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
When it comes to vegetables, the Food Pyramid breaks them down into different groups: dark green leafy vegetables, orange vegetables, starchy vegetables, beans and peas, and other veggies.
Be careful of what kind of fruit drinks and juices you consume as not all arte healthy for you. Even juice drinks that say they are made with 100% real fruit may have additives such as sugar. Fruit sodas, fruit punch, and other ‘fruit-flavored’ drinks are not that healthy for you as the more you consume, the more sugar you take in which adds calories.
Every diet needs protein. Protein is the building blocks for muscle and tissue and provides necessary minerals such as iron and zinc that the body needs. Meat is the primary source of protein. This includes beef, pork, chicken, and fish. Of all the meats, fish is the healthiest as it has it doesn’t contain saturated fats. The USDA recommends that adults eat approximately 5 ½ to 6 ½ ounces of meat a day.
Meat is not the only source of protein, though. For vegetarians, who need protein in their diet just like everyone else, they can find ample supply in beans, nuts, peanut butter, and peas.
Besides meats, beans, and nuts, eggs are another good source of protein.
Dairy products are the best source of calcium in your diet. Calcium intake during childhood is crucial for the development of healthy dense bones. Calcium is also necessary for prevention of osteoporosis later in life. The USDA recommends that adult men and women consume 2 to 3 servings of dairy a day.
Food products in the dairy group include milk, cheeses, ice cream, and yogurt. Cottage cheese is a dairy product but only contains about half the amount of calcium as other products. This means you need to consume twice the amount of cottage cheese to make one full serving.
Many cheeses are high in fat so you should always choose low-fat dairy products such as cheese made from skim milk, non-fat milk, and non-fat yogurt.
Some people have a lactose intolerance that prevents them from consuming milk, cheeses, and other dairy products. If you are lactose intolerant, you can use low-lactose or non-lactose milk products, or a calcium-fortified soy product.
Fats and Oils
The smallest category on the Food Pyramid is fats and oils. This is because it should compromise the smallest portions in your diet. Fats and oils are not very nutritious so should be limited. This category includes such items as butter, margarine, candy, desserts, sodas, oils, and fatty salad dressings.
Despite the suggestion of small consumption, fats are still necessary in a diet. Fats are responsible for providing energy, transporting vitamins to parts of your body, insulating tissues and nerves, and are involved in the makeup of hormones.
For the best healthy choice, try to stick to nonsaturated fats and oils. These would be products such as canola oil, olive oil, olives, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, and fats made with olive and canola oils. Other products, like animal fats and butter, should be used sparingly. The Food Pyramid suggests that adults consume between 6 to 7 teaspoons of oil a day.