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Shake up your diet: the new Healthy Eating Pyramid is all about variety

This blog post was written by Tess Wilson, a Membership Consultant with Australian Fitness Network. A former competitive swimmer, Tess is passionate about healthy living and the life-enhancing power of healthy, nourishing and delicious real food.

Information endorsing food regimes and guidance on nutrition is boundless. We are inundated by a wave of ‘healthy eating tips’ and ‘fad diets’ that often create more confusion than coherence. It is therefore difficult to determine what a healthy balanced diet actually looks like.

Nutrition Australia’s food pyramid has been an enduring image that aims to encapsulate what constitutes a healthy diet. This seminal image has undergone a recent transformation in an effort to square off growing nutrition confusion. The updated pyramid has a fresh new look and a renewed health message; providing clearer advice on the types and proportions of foods we should aim to eat every day for good health.

The previous pyramid grouped all foods into three categories: plant-based foods such as vegetables, legumes and grains which should make up the majority of our meals; dairy and meat products to be consumed in moderation; and those sweet and salty treats we’d all like to include more often but know we shouldn’t. The revised food pyramid expands upon this model. Plant-based foods remain the greater part of a healthy diet and dairy and protein secondary. However, those little indulgences have been replaced by healthy fats; reminding us to reach for raw nuts rather than that tempting chocolate biscuit.

The Healthy Eating Pyramid advocates ‘enjoying a variety of foods from every food group, every day’. But what does this really mean, and why were these changes made? Here are the key points to take from the new healthy eating pyramid.

1. Protect your health with legumes and vegetables
According to Nutrition Australia, vegetables, legumes, grains and fruit should make up approximately 70 per cent of what we eat. These foods are not only bursting with essential vitamins and nutrients, they are also linked to a reduced incidence of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Plant foods are also teeming with fibre, which keeps us fuller for longer, hence aiding weight management. The Dietary Guidelines for Australians provides some excellent examples of different vegetables and legumes and the serving sizes you should aim for. Add half a cup of lentils or broad beans to a salad for a lunchtime fibre hit, or combine half a cup of spinach, cauliflower or broccoli with a lean cut of meat for dinner to boost your intake of vegetables.

2. Carbohydrates are not wicked, but choose wholegrain
Carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet, however they are energy-dense so we should not eat them as often as we do vegetables – and we should choose whole grains. Whole grains include wholemeal breads, cereals and pasta, brown rice and quinoa. These foods are a vital source of dietary fibre, which reduces the risk of bowel problems. Swap your cornflakes for rolled oats at breakfast, and select wholemeal when buying pasta and bread.

3. Protein is powerful – in moderation and from a variety of sources
Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes are the predominant forms of protein. The key role of protein is as a source of iron; however protein also provides iodine, zinc, B12 vitamins and healthy fats. It is important to include a variety of meat and non-meat options as different types of protein offer different nutrients. A serving of protein might include 65-100g of lean meat or poultry, 80-120g of cooked fish, two small eggs, or 1/3 of a cup of chick peas, lentils or almonds.

Dairy products are also a great source of protein. Low-fat is best, as dairy foods can be high in saturated fats, which can increase blood pressure and your risk of heart disease. Dairy foods are the best source of calcium; including milk, yoghurt and cheese in your diet is imperative for healthy bones, muscles and nerves.

4. Healthy fats are an important player in your daily diet
The new healthy eating pyramid aims to convey the foods we should eat rather than those we shouldn’t. Therefore, the top layer of the pyramid now refers to healthy fats as it is essential to include a small amount of fat in your diet. Healthy fats are vital in supporting heart health and brain function. Healthy fats are mainly found in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated vegetable oils, nuts, avocados and seeds. The healthy eating pyramid also advocates a limited intake of saturated fats, salt and added sugar as consuming too much of these products increases your risk of developing heart disease, type two diabetes and some cancers. Limiting your intake of full-fat dairy products, fatty meats and sweet biscuits, as well as monitoring your use of salt and sugar in cooking, is crucial to preserving good health and maintaining a healthy body weight.

The healthy eating pyramid is an excellent guide to follow for a healthy balanced diet. It encourages incorporating a wide variety of foods into our daily diet and reminds us to be active every day. Food provides us with the energy and fuel we need, but it is also something to be shared, appreciated and enjoyed. A healthy balanced diet is essential for our physical and mental well-being; a life well lived is a life filled with nutritious and flavoursome food.
For more information visit the Nutrition Australia website or the Australian Government’s Dietary Guidelines.

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