Posted by Alison on 31st October 2008
The key message is to eat a variety of foods from the basic food groups
The US government’s dietary guidelines are issued in the form of a Food Guide Pyramid, which provides a visual presentation of the six food groups and the proportions they should form in your diet.
Food Guide Pyramid
Breads, cereals, rice, and other grains should form the largest part of your diet, and are therefore shown at the base of the pyramid: six to 11 daily servings from this group are recommended. Next in quantity are vegetables, with three to five daily servings recommended, and fruits, with a daily recommendation of two to four servings.
Only two to three daily servings are recommended from the animal and plant protein group, which includes meat, poultry, fish, legumes, eggs, and nuts. At the same level is the milk and dairy products group with a recommendation of two to three daily servings. Sweet foods, fats, and alcohol should be eaten sparingly, and are at the top of the pyramid.
These official guidelines may no longer accurately reflect the latest findings on nutrition and health. For example, there is evidence that eating too much red meat is harmful to your health because it is high in saturated fat.
On the other hand, since it has been shown that eating oily fish and certain plant oils, such as canola and olive oil, reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, current recommendations suggest that the consumption of these foods should be increased. The current Food Guide Pyramid has been criticized because it does not distinguish between whole-and refined-grain products, which differ significantly in nutritional value. Refined grains should be eaten sparingly, and whole grains should form the foundation of your diet.
The Mediterranean diet
Some dietary recommendations are based on studies of people living in Mediterranean countries who have lower cholesterol levels and rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer than people in North America. The Mediterranean diet, low in saturated fats and high in monounsaturated fats, includes more grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and olive oil, while protein is supplied by fish, poultry, cheese, eggs, and yogurt.
A word of caution: a diet high in monounsaturated fats s also high in calories and leads to weight gain if you do not exercise enough.
Healthy lifestyle A diet of fresh, locally grown produce, rich in beneficial fats, and an active, outdoor lifestyle, contribute to the good health enjoyed in Mediterranean areas.
What is serving?
Official guidelines indicate how many servings should be eaten daily from each food group. The recommendations are expressed as ranges, to cater for different energy needs. For example, the lower number in each group applies to people with low energy requirements, such as older adults and sedentary people; the higher numbers are appropriate for teenage boys, active men, and very active women.
Serving vs Portions
You may wonder whether these servings are the same size as the food portions served at home or restaurants. They are not. Recommended servings are of a fixed, standard quantity, while portion sizes are variable. However, North Americans tend to eat particularly large portions of food and as a consequence have high rates of obesity.
It is a good idea to start thinking of food portions in terms of these standard serving sizes because this will help you maintain a healthy weight and eat less if you are trying to lose weight.
The Five-a-day for Better Health Program, which encourages the consumption of at least five servings of vegetables and fruits every day, was launched in 1991 by the National Cancer Institute. This was in response to evidence that diets high in these foods reduce the risk of developing certain cancers.
While the program has helped raise public awareness of the need to eat more of these valuable foods, less than half of all North Americans are meeting the five-a-day goal. In any event, five-a-day is only a minimum target: the official daily recommendation is for three to five servings of vegetables and two to four servings of fruits, which should be selected from a variety of different types and colors of vegetables and fruits in order to maximize the potential health benefits.
Take five servings One apple, a 6floz (180ml) glass of carrot juice, a handful of strawberries, and some broccoli and beans – that is all it takes to meet the five-a-day minimum target for fruit and vegetable intake.