Nutrition Australia has just released a new Healthy Eating Pyramid, the first update in 15 years. It is a very small step in the right direction, however I believe they still have a long way to go.
Here is what the new Healthy Eating Pyramid looks like:
New Healthy Eating Pyramid Improvements
I’m going to start by discussing the positive moves in this new healthy eating pyramid, and then give my opinion of what it should look like. First of all, they’ve taken grains out of the bottom section and moved them up one level.
As you probably are already aware, the healthy eating pyramid design is based on a recommendation of the quantity of certain foods we should eat. Looking at it from bottom to top, we see foods that are recommended to be eaten in higher quantities at the bottom of the healthy eating pyramid, and lower quantities at the top.
By moving the grains up a section, they are acknowledging the research that shows the modern high carb diet has contributed significantly towards the growing obesity epidemic, as well as chronic disease such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer, heart disease, and more. Grains play little to no part in the caveman diet, and were only introduced into the human diet relatively recently (particularly the very highly processed products we see today).
Another point with this healthy eating pyramid is that they have put partitions on two of the levels. Fruit is still on the bottom level with vegetables, but it takes up a much smaller segment. That’s fine, I think fruit is very important for us to eat, but some people may be worried about the higher sugar content compared to vegetables.
In the second level from the top, we have a section divided between meat and meat alternatives, and dairy and dairy alternatives. I would call this an improvement as it seems to cut down the amount of dairy intake they are recommending in our diet.
Dairy also plays little to no part in the caveman diet, as it was only introduced relatively recently into the human diet. Advocates of dairy (usually those who have a vested interest in selling the stuff, or are paid to), will claim that dairy is essential in our diet for the calcium.
Studies have shown that the calcium absorption rate in our bodies from dairy is very low, and we are much better off getting our required calcium intake from vegetable matter, such as dark green leafy vegetables. These same studies also show what they call a “calcium paradox”, acknowledged by the World Health Organisation, whereby countries with the highest dairy consumption levels, such as the United States and Finland, also have the highest rates of osteoporosis.
You can see the results of this study for yourself at New PCRM study shatters milk myth: children’s bone health tied to exercise, not dairy.
Also, did you know that humans are the only mammals to drink milk after they are weaned off it, and the only ones to drink the milk of other mammals?! So ask yourself, why do we actually NEED to drink it?
Another positive step for this healthy eating pyramid is the addition of the healthy fats at the very top. Usually the top spot was occupied by sugar, and now that has been completely removed, an excellent idea.
Past versions of pyramid listed healthy types of oil to be margarine, canola oil, vegetable oil and reduced fat spreads (gross and disgusting, all of them!). This current version names extra virgin olive oil (good), nut oils (good), and seed oils (this includes vegetable and canola oil, not so good).
They also ask us to avoid saturated fats, like coconut oil. As I noted in my previous post, The Health Benefits of Coconut Oil, saturated fats are very important and useful to us. So there’s another step in the right direction for this new healthy eating pyramid, but not quite all the way yet.
Lastly I want to note that they’ve put a big red cross next to added salt and sugar, which is reasonable. They’ve also added to drink lot’s of water (as opposed to all that sugary crap out there), and to season your food with plenty of herbs and spices, which is a very useful recommendation.
The Caveman Plate
The main idea behind using a healthy eating pyramid to illustrate recommendations for dietary intake is simplicity. A picture can tell a thousand words, and it works well when targeted at children in school when providing a simple message of what are good food options to eat.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t eat my food in a pyramid style. I get what they’re trying to say from an illustrative point of view, because everything you eat across a whole day might not be represented completely in one meal.
Working on that basis of keeping it simple, I’ve got a really simple design for a meal set out here, in a form that might look much more familiar to you… a plate!
Obviously, this is very simplistic. I’m not sure that cavemen and women really had much access to crockery, but I think the image works quite well for us modern humans.
The plate, as an opposing concept to the healthy eating pyramid, has become very popular among people familiar with the Paleo or Caveman Diet. There are also plenty of people who have probably done a much more creative version than this, but this will do for now.
Maybe one day I’ll get around to creating a much more interesting looking plate!
This does get across the basic message that most of our meals should be made up of a variety of different vegetables, meats, and healthy fats. Add in some fruits, nuts and seeds to snack on, and you’ll go a long way to reconnecting with your inner caveman and getting back to optimum health!
Please feel free to share, and let me know what you reckon in the comments below.