Nutrition Australia is a community-based organisation, which aims to promote the health and wellbeing of all Australians. To help achieve this aim the healthy eating pyramid was developed some time ago. This pyramid has recently undergone a healthy makeover and a new food pyramid was recently revealed to the Australian community (see below). It’s been a solid 15 years since Nutrition Australia has updated its famous food pyramid. Despite an increase in chronic disease including obesity and diabetes, the previous food pyramid stood strong. Thankfully, the updated version is a step in the right direction and helps create clarity around the way we should eat for optimal health.
Why the change?
The in’s and outs and know-how of nutrition is presently a minefield with the explosion of ‘entrants’ into the industry seeking to have their say. In some parts of the nation, being ‘healthy’ is on trend and with that comes fad diets and elimination of entire food groups, in the hope to attain a certain appeal.
With Paleo on the prowl and veganism holding strength, it’s not wrong to say the old pyramid lacked relevancy and was being left behind. Fleeting trends and strict views on health, often in the wrong hands, has brought about misinformation and some clarity around healthy eating was sorely needed.
The momentum for change came about by “an effort to combat growing nutrition confusion and risky fad diets.” The new pyramid “provides clearer advice on the 5 core food groups Australians should aim to eat every day for a healthy balanced diet.” The recommendations are based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines (2013) and reflects intake for 19-50 year olds.
What are the major changes?
Specificity: previously the pyramid was separated into 3 categories (‘eat most, eat moderately and eat in small amounts) – it is now separated into 5 specific food groups.
- What does this mean: viewers of the pyramid now have greater specificity on where to place focus when choosing individual foods to eat which helps us to make the right choices.
Focus on vegetables: breads and cereals have been bumped up a notch and vegetables, legumes and fruit are now centre stage. Additionally, previously fruits and vegetables were grouped together; fruits are now placed to the side of vegetables.
- What does this mean: when choosing foods, greatest emphasis should be placed on vegetable consumption, design your meals around vegetables. Remember, fruits are a healthy and necessary addition to the diet but should be limited to 2-3 pieces daily and should not replace vegetables intake.
Healthy fats: healthy fats were previously represented by oil and margarine, olive oil now flies the flag, perhaps a little too high up but progress has been made.
- What does this mean: margarine is off the menu and incorporating healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil is an important part of a balanced healthy diet, fats should not be feared.
Herbs and spices are represented: finally herbs and spices get a mention as an addition to the diet.
- What does this mean: using herbs and spices to add flavour to meals in place of commercial sauces and pastes is a way to add diversity and greater nutrient load to the diet.
Sugar and other junk food occupy no space: sugar was previously in the “eat in small amounts” category.
- What does this mean: whilst we should not deprive ourselves and feel guilty indulging from time to time, in essence we should aim to obtain our “sugar” from fruits as a more beneficial alternative.
Non-dairy alternatives get a look in: previously the focus was on cow’s dairy; the new pyramid incorporates soymilk as a non-dairy alternative.
- What does this mean: Non-dairy gets recognition as a healthy source of calcium and the pyramid now caters to those suffering intolerances or who have a particular liking for non-dairy milks.
Vegetarian sources of protein are highlighted: Tofu gets a mention in the protein section; previously meat, eggs, chicken and dairy were the protein options.
- What does this mean: inclusion of tofu helps to encourage greater diversity in the diet and acknowledges different styles of eating, ie vegetarian. Opting for vegetarian sources of protein from time to time is beneficial for diversify nutrient intake.
Less emphasis on breads and cereals: gone are the days of “bread, rice and pasta” being considered our only grains, now quinoa and soba noodles are included under grains.
- What does this mean: again the new pyramid advocates greater diversity in the diet and greater emphasis on “quality” low-glycaemic index carbohydrates for improved health. The pyramid is helping to encourage the right choice when it comes to each food group.
Putting it into practice
How can I apply the changes to achieve greater health?
- Allow vegetables to take centre stage when it comes to meal planning, dress your vegetables with proteins and fats, not the other way around.
- Use a variety of herbs and spices daily to add flavour to your meal eg use chilli and ginger in stir-frys.
- Alternate your sources of dairy for greater diet diversity, try soy, almond or rice milk and try tofu as a vegetarian protein option.
- Ditch the margarine once and for all and feel comfortable using healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil.
- Swap high-glycaemic index carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta for low-glycaemic options such as quinoa, wholegrain breads and soba noodles.
- See fruits as your sugar and if seeking sweetness use fruit as your way to sweeten up meals, eg add chopped dates to porridge in place of sugar.
To show you how to tie in some of the recommendations of the new food pyramid when it comes to meal planning, try my warm Asian tofu salad with quinoa (GCBC).