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The Food Pyramid – Healthy Breakfast – What Our Body Needs (1)
Starting your day with a healthy breakfast is easy to say. But what is a healthy breakfast? How do we decide what to have and why? This is the first in a series of 3 articles that help you understand what your body needs to start the day off right.
The food pyramid
Over the past sixty years or so, nutritional guidelines issued by various governments have evolved from the proverbial apple a day to the food wheel and have now come to various versions of the Food pyramid.
Food pyramids graphically organize food groups. The food groups are:
- Dairy products
- Meat, fish and beans
Traditionally, the higher the food group is in the pyramid, the lower the share of that group should be in your daily calorie consumption.
The most recent version of the food pyramid has changed the presentation of how food groups should be present in your diet. The face of the pyramid is now made up of colored wedges running down from tip to base. Each color represents a food group. The width of the wedge at the base of the pyramid now indicates how much of that food group should make up your daily calorie intake. (You will find a link to the food pyramid at the end of this article.)
The most striking and welcome innovation in this pyramid is not this reorganization of food groups. It’s adding exercise into your daily regimen. Nutrition without exercise is only half the answer, just as exercise without the right nutrition will only yield limited results. Steps lead to the left side of the pyramid and a person is shown climbing these steps. You can take this literally: go up the stairs instead of taking the elevator. I’ve talked more about other ways to exercise in another post (Wellness — Hoax, Hype Or Real?) The recommended base level of exercise is half an hour of brisk walking daily and it doesn’t have to be done in one go.
Let’s take a look at the individual food groups now.
Cereals constitute the most important individual group. If we take fruits and vegetables together, then this combined group wins hands down. This means that the largest portion of our daily calorie intake should come from fruits and vegetables combined, followed by grains, dairy products, then meat, fish and beans, and finally oils, the group that is so small that it doesn’t even have its own label at the foot of the pyramid. It’s the little corner between fruit and milk.
A big omission from this food pyramid is water. Water is vital. And yet, so many people complain that they can’t drink so much water.
If someone stood next to them, pointed a loaded gun to their head and said, “Drink, or else!” Would they drink? Of course they would. Anyone would. Your life is at stake. It’s the same when you don’t drink enough. It’s only when we don’t drink enough that the consequences are long term and not immediate. That’s why we think we can afford to grow them in tall grass.
How many do you need? As a general rule, we need around 1.5 to 2 liters – or 6 to 8 large glasses – per day (depending on the climate and our level of physical activity) to prevent dehydration. Here’s an interesting fact: 2% dehydration seriously impairs your powers of concentration. How much water do you drink? Did you drink a big glass of water as soon as you got up today?
Infants, children and the elderly are more likely to suffer from dehydration. This is why they, or their caregivers, should pay close attention to their fluid intake.
Due to their calorie content, soft drinks and fruit juices are not good choices for replacing lost fluids, especially if you are training to try to lose or manage weight. Try adding just a little fruit juice or a slice of lemon or lime to a glass of water if you don’t like the taste of plain water.
The current food pyramid is certainly an improvement over any of its predecessors. For my money, however, I would follow the approach taken by another food pyramid at all times:
The California Food Pyramid
The California Cuisine Pyramid is at the forefront of nutritional science. His approach expands the scope of our traditional food pyramid. It’s not a food-only pyramid. It also provides a basis for including advice on physical activity, water and dietary supplements. Let’s take a closer look at what it has to offer. (You’ll find a link to the California Cuisine Pyramid at the end of this article.)
Taste is at the top of the pyramid, as it is the most important element in promoting food intake. Instead of dots symbolizing hidden fats and oils (in the traditional food pyramid) or just oils in the newer version, the use of natural flavor enhancers is recommended as needed, including: avocado, herbs, nuts, olives, seeds, spices (including garlic, chillies, onions, cumin, curry, mustard, bell peppers), oils high in monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids, and sweeteners (honey, molasses, sugars, sweeteners).
An additional step is to include vegetable protein for a balanced diet in the daily 4-6 servings of protein. Protein recommendation now includes soy protein, beans and legumes with rice or corn (for plant protein) or non-fat dairy, egg white, poultry, fish/fruit seafood, lean meats (for animal protein). Soy protein is a nutritionally complete protein with great health benefits. Soy protein isolate, an easily absorbed form of soy protein, has been approved for a cholesterol-lowering dietary claim by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States. It is recommended as a protein balance for meat-derived proteins in the diet. There is also emerging evidence on the effects of soy protein as an antioxidant and tumor growth inhibitor.
For cereals, read “whole grain”, not refined (white) flour, bread, pasta or rice. Choose the “brown” variety and make sure it’s whole grain and not just wholemeal flour.
The California Cuisine Pyramid also extends the recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day to 5 to 11 servings with a predominance of vegetables over fruit. Generally speaking, women should eat at least 7 servings while men should eat at least 9 servings (one serving is approximately one cup of fresh vegetables, half a cup of cooked vegetables or half a cup of fruit ).
Given all of this official advice based on cutting-edge nutritional science, the following question seems almost redundant. But is it?
Should we take supplements?
We have all heard this lament before:
“Are supplements really necessary? I don’t like taking pills, I get all my nutrients from food.
Consider this: Even with the best of intentions, the right information, and enough time and money, it’s nearly impossible for us to get all the nutrients we need from our daily diets alone. Getting the right nutrition is no longer easy.
Agriculture has changed so much over the past 50 years: it has become industrialized; seasonal fruits and vegetables are now kept too long in cold storage to make them available throughout the year; the soil has become impoverished; additives in soil and food require caution in our decisions about how much of certain foods we eat; and the jury is still out on the long-term impact of genetic manipulation. All of these factors have certainly reduced the nutrient density and content of the foods we eat. Fresh foods simply don’t provide us with the amount of nutrients we think we are getting. Supplementation is necessary to achieve our goal of a perfectly balanced diet.
Scientific evidence in favor of supplementation has accumulated over the past ten to fifteen years. Supplementation is recommended by the World Health Organization and by many doctors. Unfortunately, too often people confuse taking nutritional supplements with taking medications, as most supplements come in the form of tablets or capsules. The form of the thing, that is to say its mode of administration should not make us forget that to ensure optimal well-being, taking supplements has become essential.
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