We study the food pyramid very early in our lives when we are in school but forget about it later in our lives. The food pyramid is our first guide into good food and healthy eating; however, not many of us remember it when we are the ones preparing and planning for our own meals, or the meals for our family and children. 

So, whether you remember the details or not, here is a crash course on the healthy food pyramid that we have come to forget and ignore over the years. 

The Healthy Food Pyramid 

This pyramid has been in circulation since the late 70s, a simplified idea presented to the general public about the kind of foods and nutrients that should be on the top of our priorities when it comes to eating. Over the years, the pyramid has been updated a few times, more suited to our modern lifestyle. While the original food pyramid had provisions for more servings that we eat generally, the modern versions are more subdued and compact. 

Besides, the 70s model put more focus on carbohydrates than proteins or fibre and was based on a 2,000 calorie serving every day. The modern food pyramid promotes a smaller calorie intake, from 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day. 

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Understanding the Modern Food Pyramid 

The modern food pyramid is different in every country and culture and based on age, gender, body type, and other similar factors, as opposed to the classic food pyramid that was the same for everyone. 

This is what the basic modern food pyramid looks like today: The figure above is the updated healthy food pyramid of 2011, updated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). 25 other countries of the world have their own versions of the healthy food pyramid, influenced by the local cuisine and taste. 

Explaining the Modern Food Pyramid 

The modern food pyramid is quite easy to understand. It divides every kind of food we come across in our everyday life into five categories and tells us how important those particular foods are for our health. These five categories are: 

  • Fruits and Vegetables; 
  • Protein; 
  • Dairy Products; 
  • Whole Grains and Starchy Food;
  • Fats, oils, and Confectionary. 

According to the Food Pyramid, this is what the five parts of the food pyramid mean in practical senses: 

  • Fruits and Vegetables –  ½ of your Plate

All fruits and vegetables are good for the human body, even the ones that are high in sugar and fructose. Fruits and vegetables should fill half your plate for every meal, especially for lunch and dinner. 

Fresh fruits are the best source of calcium, fibre and all kinds of vitamins and minerals; a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice with your breakfast every morning fulfils your body’s daily requirement of Vitamin C, and a single banana is a great source of potassium and iron. Other important fruits that are good for our health are apples, avocados, all kinds of berries including strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries, kiwi, melons, peaches, pineapples, pears, plums, and mangoes, available all through the year. 

In the same way, vegetables are also one of the most concentrated sources of nutrition and minerals in the world, except starchy ones like a potato. As salads, stir-fried, steamed, roasted, boiled or sautéed, the best vegetables to fill your plates with are asparagus, bell pepper, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, cucumber, carrots, tomatoes, kale, onions, lettuce, celery, leeks, radishes, turnips, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, and Swiss chard. 

  • Protein –  ¼ of your Plate

One-fourth of your plate should be filled with protein – meat, fish, eggs, and alternatives. Both animal-based and plant-based proteins should be an important part of your daily diet, for lunch, dinner, and breakfast, and even as snacks. 

The best meat-based proteins are skinless poultry, seafood, and white-fleshed fish, lean beef and turkey, as well as soy, light tofu, pork loin and bison, and egg whites. Cold cuts, deli meat, and processed sausages and patties should be avoided as much as possible, and instead, fresh meat and fish should be a part of your daily meals. These protein sources are best cooked with a little number of healthy oils and natural herbs, as opposed to processed sauces and condiments. 

The other sources of protein – particularly the plant-based ones, happen to be all kinds of beans, nuts, and legumes. Everything from lentils and peas to black beans, kidney beans, red beans, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, and yeast are natural sources of protein that we can add to our salads, munch as snacks, cook in a curry or stir fry for our lunch. 

  • Whole Grain –  ¼ of your Plate

Another important part of our meals should constitute of whole grains and good carbohydrates – only 1/4th of what we eat every day. It is better to completely eliminate any traces of white and processed grains from your meal, such as white bread, white rice, and white pasta, and only keep the whole-wheat versions. 

Important whole grains include brown rice, brown bread, brown pasta, steel-cut or uncut oats, barley, whole wheat, whole berries, and quinoa. They have a slightly milder effect on our blood sugar than white grains and are easily processed by our bodies. 

  • Dairy – Single serving every day 

Dairy products are the best sources of calcium and protein, found in low-fat, non-fat or half-and-half milk, Greek Yogurt, cheese, whey protein, and fortified cereals. However, if you are allergic to dairy or can’t process dairy properly, there are other non-dairy sources of calcium that you can try, such as amaranth, poppy, chia, sesame and poppy seeds, sardines, almonds, leafy greens such as collard greens, kale, and spinach, rhubarb and tofu. 

  • Oils and Fats – Moderately and Sparingly 

Of course, your body needs some form of fats and oils to function, but they should be only used sparingly in your food. The worst kind of oil is the partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and the best kinds of oil include peanut oil, canola oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, and soy oil. 

It is also important to avoid anything that has saturated fat or trans-fat, which are found in processed and baked confectionery, ice cream, cakes and pastries, vegetable shortening, pie crusts, and margarine. Butter and cheese are saturated fats, not as harmful as trans-fat but better to limit to a minimum amount. On the other hand, the good kind of fats can be found in nuts and seeds, to be munched as snacks.

  • Water, coffee and Other Drinks 

Water should be the most important and the first drink of your option, but other sugarless and milk-free drinks such as black coffee and black tea are also allowed as a drink, as are juices and smoothies made from fresh fruit. However, any kind of carbonated drinks, caffeinated drinks, energy drinks or artificially sweetened drinks should be completely eliminated or avoided as much as possible. 

  • An Active Life 

Another outspoken part of the food pyramid is to exercise and maintain an active life; only healthy food isn’t enough if your life is a lazy, sedentary one. Freehand exercises, half an hour on an exercise machine, light weight lifting, or simply a walk every day is what you need to stay fit and healthy. 

Even though the original food pyramid and the idea behind the food pyramid have become quite an outdated concept, the thoughts behind the figure are still important. The Food pyramid was the first time we are introduced to the idea of healthy food and healthy life back in school, and the idea – to some extent – stays with us for the rest of our life as we later plan meals for our family members. 

Although the food pyramid has changed significantly over the decades, it is still something to take notice of and remember, for the sake of our health.