The Food Pyramid – Healthy Breakfast – What Our Body Needs (1)
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The Food Pyramid – Healthy Breakfast – What Our Body Needs (1)

Starting the 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 to help you understand what your body needs to start your day off right.

The food pyramid

Over the past sixty years, the nutritional guidelines issued by various governments have evolved from the proverbial apple a day to the food wheel and now to various versions of the diet. Food pyramid.

Food pyramids graphically organize food groups. The food groups are:

  • Grain
  • vegetables
  • fruit
  • dairy products
  • Meat, fish and beans
  • oils

Traditionally, the higher a food group is on the pyramid, the lower the proportion of that group in your daily calorie intake.

The most recent version of the food pyramid changed the presentation of the way in which the food groups should be present in your diet. The face of the pyramid is now made up of colored wedges running from the top to the base. Each color represents a food group. The width of the wedge at the bottom of the pyramid now shows how much of that food group should make up your daily calorie intake. (You’ll 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 the food groups. It is the addition of exercise in your daily regimen. Nutrition without exercise is only half the solution, just as exercise without proper nutrition will only bring limited results. Steps lead up to the left side of the pyramid and a person is shown climbing these steps. You can literally take this: take the stairs instead of taking the elevator. I’ve talked more about alternative ways to exercise in another article (Wellness: Hoax, Hype, or Real?) The recommended baseline level of exercise is half an hour of brisk walking a day, and that doesn’t necessarily have to be done all at once.

food groups

Let’s take a look at the individual food groups now.

Kernels are the largest single group. However, if we take fruits and vegetables together, then this combined group wins hands down. This means that most of our daily calorie intake should be from fruits and vegetables combined, followed by grains, dairy, then meat, fish and beans, and finally oils, the group that is so small it doesn’t even have its own label at the bottom of the pyramid. It’s the little wedge between fruit and milk.

Water

One big omission from this food pyramid is water. Water is vital. And yet, many people complain that they just can’t drink that much water.

If someone stood next to them, he would point a loaded gun to their head and say, “Drink, or else!” would they drink? Of course they would. Anyone would. You life is at stake. It’s the same when you don’t drink enough. Only when we don’t drink enough are the consequences long-term, not immediate. That’s why we think we can afford to push them into the tall grass.

How much is enough? As a general guideline, we need around 1.5 to 2 liters, or 6 to 8 large glasses, per day (depending on the weather and our level of physical activity) to prevent dehydration. Here’s an interesting fact: 2% dehydration seriously affects your power of concentration. How much water do you drink? Did you drink a big glass of water immediately when you got out of bed today?

Babies, children, and the elderly are more likely to experience dehydration. That’s why they, or their caregivers, need to pay special attention to their fluid intake.

Due to their caloric content, soft drinks and fruit juices are not good options to replace lost fluids, especially if you are exercising to try to lose or control your weight. Try adding just a splash of 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 progress compared to any of its predecessors. However, for my money, I would follow the approach taken by another food pyramid any time:

The California Kitchen Pyramid

The California culinary pyramid is at the forefront of nutritional science. His approach expands the scope of our traditional food pyramid. It’s not just a food 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 culinary pyramid at the bottom of this article.)

Taste is at the top of the pyramid, because it is the most important element in promoting food intake. Instead of the 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, chilies, onions, cumin, curry, mustard, peppers), oils rich in monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids, and sweeteners (honey, molasses , sugars, sweeteners).

One more step is the inclusion of plant-based protein for balanced nutrition in the 4 to 6 daily servings of protein. The protein recommendation now includes soy protein, beans and vegetables with rice or corn (for plant-based protein) or non-fat dairy, egg whites, poultry, fish/seafood, lean meats (for animal protein). Soy protein is a nutritionally complete protein with great health benefits. Soy protein isolate, a readily absorbable form of soy protein, has received US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for a cholesterol-lowering food claim. 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 inhibitor of tumor growth.

For grain, read “whole”, not refined (white) flour, bread, pasta, or rice. Go for the “brown” variety and make sure it’s whole grain and not just whole wheat.

The California Food Pyramid also expands the recommended 5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables to 5 to 11 servings with vegetables predominating over fruit. Generally speaking, women should eat at least 7 servings, while men should eat at least 9 servings (one serving is about one cup of fresh vegetables, one-half cup of cooked vegetables, or one-half cup of fruit).

Given all this official advice based on cutting-edge nutritional science, the next question seems almost redundant. But is it?

Should we take supplements?

We’ve 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 equipped with the best intentions, the right information, and enough time and money, it’s virtually impossible for us to get all the nutrients we need from our daily food alone. Getting the right nutrition is no longer easy.

Agriculture has changed a lot in the last 50 years: it has become industrialized; seasonal fruits and vegetables are now kept for excessively long periods in cold rooms to make them available year-round; the soil has been exhausted; soil and feed additives require caution in our decisions about how much of certain foods to eat; and the jury is still out on the long-term impact of genetic manipulation. All of these factors have certainly reduced the density and nutritional content of the foods we eat. Fresh foods simply don’t provide us with the amount of nutrients we think we’re getting. Supplementation is necessary to achieve our goal of optimally balanced nutrition.

The scientific evidence in favor of supplementation has been accumulating in the last ten or fifteen years. Supplementation is recommended by the World Health Organization and by numerous doctors. Unfortunately, too often people confuse taking nutritional supplements with taking medication because most supplements come in tablet or capsule form. The shape of the thing, i.e. its delivery method, should not blind us to the fact that in order to ensure optimum wellness, taking supplements has become unavoidable.

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