It is common for us to be presented to this chart with food groups still in childhood, due to their easy understanding. You may have already made a presentation at school about this food guide.
Despite receiving some criticism and having undergone some modifications, this is still a very common model of what we should eat to have a healthy life.
The food pyramid is a type of graphical representation of a food model, divided by floors or steps, in the shape of a pyramid.
From the bottom to the top, it includes the food groups that should be consumed, according to their importance or relevance to people’s health. There are different versions of the food pyramid, and since its first creation, it undergoes updates.
Generally, it presents illustrations of the food and the number of meals that should be eaten, daily, by each group.
Despite variations in position, food groups remain in the vast majority of pyramids, namely:
- Vegetables and legumes;
- Meat, eggs and grains;
- Milks and derivatives (dairy products);
- Oils, fats and sugars (lipids).
The food pyramid serves to promote the ideal food or the closest to that. It is a didactic and very simple way of understanding how daily food should be composed.
As the food is arranged in a pyramid shape, it is possible to clearly observe which groups should be consumed in abundance and which ones should be eaten in moderation.
In addition, the pyramid establishes a form of food balance, in which the foods at the top represent the highest energy value, but the lowest nutritional value, which is debatable.
The big problem pointed out in the existing food pyramids is the way they segregate, say, foods with fat or sugars.
Just as there are carbohydrates that are bad for health – which generally occupy a better position in the pyramid – there are also fats that are essential for our body.
In this way, the food pyramid serves as a basis for building food education and can be used to teach children about the importance of basic foods, for example.
There are some variations of the food pyramid, which seek to correspond to the habits, needs and culture of the place where it was created. There are also some pyramids from research and studies, focused on what should be the best for people’s consumption.
Although there are some types of food pyramids, the premise is the same: achieve a good, balanced and healthy diet. Get to know:
North American Pyramid
The North American food pyramid was created in 1992 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
When creating this guide, the intention was to contribute so that people could have food options to maintain good health and decrease the risk of chronic diseases.
It didn’t take long for her to become famous, or for criticisms of the way she divided food groups to begin.
The way in which the Department of Agriculture divided the amounts was controversial, as follows: people, according to the pyramid, should reduce their consumption of fats and oils and include from 6 to 11 servings daily of foods rich in complex carbohydrates ( breads, cereals, pasta, etc.).
In this way they maintained the extreme places of the pyramid, where carbohydrates occupied the base and fats and oils, the tip.
The recommended amounts of vegetables, legumes, fruits and dairy products were also generous. Meats and beans were recommended for at least two servings daily, including poultry, red meats, fish, nuts, vegetables and eggs.
The biggest problem found in the North American model, critical of this coming from nutritionists, was the way they put fats as a villain into the diet, ignoring the fact that some types of fats are essential for health and even useful to prevent some cardiovascular diseases.
Scientists have also been unable to prove the benefits of consuming larger amounts of carbohydrates. What is known is that balance would be the best option, since not all carbohydrates are good and not all types of fats are harmful.
The functional pyramid, also known as the new pyramid or the Harvard pyramid , was created with the aim of distributing the graph floors according to what should be eaten more in the daily diet, from the most important (base), to what should be less consumed (top).
What is new in the functional pyramid, which until recently had not been included in the other models, is the practice of physical exercises, placed at the base.
On the first floor of the food, this pyramid is divided into two parts. In the first, the space belongs to whole grains, which have good amounts of fiber, in which they promote greater satiety, decrease the absorption of cholesterol and glucose, and help to regulate the intestine.
In the other half, we have vegetable oils, such as sunflower oil, corn, olive oil and canola. They are responsible for raising HDL, the cholesterol that is good for our health. They are also sources of unsaturated fats, which help to lower LDL, the bad cholesterol.
In the center of the functional pyramid, vegetables occupy their space. They are essential for health because they are sources of minerals, fibers and vitamins .
Oilseeds like chestnuts, walnuts and almonds are part of the “upstairs”, along with legumes such as beans, lentils and chickpeas.
These groups are important because they are sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals. In addition, legumes are very important plant proteins , acting as antioxidants in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, and in the prevention and treatment of anemia , as they contain good amounts of iron.
Subsequently, fish, chicken and eggs occupy the step of sources of animal protein. Just above are dairy products and calcium supplements. At the top of the table are red meat, butter, white rice, white bread, potatoes , pasta and sweets.
Altogether, there are 7 floors within the functional pyramid, accounting for its base with regard to physical activities. This model also considers the consumption of alcoholic beverages, such as red wine.
Red wine has properties capable of reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, but consumption should be moderate. The pyramid also includes the use of vitamin supplements, seen as important to complete some nutritional needs.
The Mediterranean diet was created in 1986 by Ancel Keys, an American physiologist. The concept of this type of pyramid arose when Keys demonstrated that there was a relationship between fat intake and the occurrence of heart disease.
According to the physiologist, the greater the consumption of fats, the greater the incidence of these diseases, but with one exception.
He noted that the types of fats consumed by people in countries such as Spain, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Cyprus, Morocco and Portugal – belonging to the Mediterranean basin – had a lower number of cases of diseases such as heart attacks, for example.
This, due to the unsaturated fat consumed. It was from this that the concept of the Mediterranean diet emerged.
In the Mediterranean diet, the food pyramid is divided into 8 floors, the base being the recommendation for physical exercises, rest and social life. Right above, the pyramid inserts the consumption of water and teas in daily life.
What would be the first floor of food, in the Mediterranean diet, includes a much greater variety of foods, not dividing them into groups as specific as the other pyramids. Here, fruits, vegetables, legumes, pasta, cereals, olive oil and bread come together.
It also recommends that people prefer whole foods. These foods, according to the pyramid, must be present at each main meal.
Within the foods that should be consumed daily, which occupy the space above the foods that should be eaten during the main meal, there are dairy products, olives, nuts and seeds.
For a healthier diet, the ideal is to prefer the leaner dairy options, consuming a maximum of 2 times a day. And, for olives, nuts and seeds, I recommend that you eat up to 2 servings.
The Mediterranean diet, finally, places in the pyramid the foods that must be consumed weekly, which are divided into three floors.
White meats, legumes and eggs share a section of the pyramid, varying only in the number of portions.
The Mediterranean diet places red meats, processed meats and potatoes almost at the top, but they lose out on sweets, which represent the foods that should be avoided the most.
Children’s food pyramid
It is essential to start a healthy eating orientation during childhood, as children and adolescents are often more resistant to maintaining a varied diet, consuming all essential food groups.
Like the other food pyramid models, the child food pyramid is also based on concepts such as seeking variety and trying to find a way to prevent diseases such as obesity , diabetes and malnutrition in food.
In it, there is no division into floors, but in 3 food groups: regulators, builders and energy sources.
The energy foods are basically sugars, carbohydrates and fats. Although in excess they can do harm, moderately, they are important for children to have energy to play and study.
However, in the face of this group, parents need to be stricter in relation to consumption. Children are attracted to consuming candies, cookies and snacks, parents need to know how to balance the consumption of these foods with healthier foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
Within the groups of regulating foods are fruits, cereals, vegetables and legumes. These foods are very important for the development of the child, in this process in which his body is still undergoing changes.
Because they contain vitamins, fibers, minerals and other nutrients, they help children to strengthen their immune system, improve bowel function, among many other benefits.
Many diseases are related to the lack of these foods, which is why the food pyramid encourages consumption by children.
Proteins from animal sources, such as meats, eggs, milk and its derivatives are part of the foodstuffs. In this table, they are considered the most important within the child’s diet.
In addition to helping muscle and bone development, proteins contribute to better healing, help in the growth and formation of body structures and hormones.
WHO food pyramid
The World Health Organization (WHO) together with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), gathered in a guide, recommendations for feeding Brazilians, so that it could approach the reality of the country in the best way.
The intention is to promote, through a pyramid model, information on how to consume food groups with quality, in order to avoid diseases such as obesity, dental caries and other possible chronic diseases.
Regarding the structure of the WHO food pyramid, it comes close to what is the North American model, proposed by the USDA.
Regarding the structure of the WHO food pyramid, it comes close to what is the North American model, proposed by the USDA, indicating the ideal amount of daily servings:
- Rice, bread, pasta, potato, cassava: between 5 and 9 servings;
- Fruits: between 2 and 4 servings;
- Vegetables and vegetables: between 4 and 5 servings;
- Beans: 1 serving;
- Meat and eggs: between 1 and 2 servings;
- Milk, cheese and yogurt: 3 servings;
- Sugars and sweets: between 2 and 3 servings;
- Oils and fats: between 2 and 3 servings.
The guide also presents 10 tips for healthy eating, they are:
- Prioritize natural (fresh) or minimally processed foods;
- Salt, fat and sugars should be used sparingly;
- Avoid, as much as possible, ultra-processed foods, in which you do not have full knowledge of the ingredients and the way they were prepared;
- As in regular periods and devote your attention to meals. Prioritize quiet and very clean places, next to other people;
- Prefer to buy food in places with fresh food, and when possible, consume organic or acroecological foods;
- Learn to cook and try to discover in preparing your meals a new way of leisure and socializing with other people;
- Organize your time so that food is a priority, sharing the tasks of food with the people who live with you, because eating well is something necessary for everyone;
- When eating out, look for places where meals are freshly made;
- Finally, be informed and be critical about information about food. Consider what will be good for your health and escape the myths and advertisements that exist about healthy eating.
The food pyramid is composed of 8 food groups, which are divided into four floors, in most graphics. The eight groups present are:
- Carbohydrates: rice, bread, pasta, potato, cassava, etc. – base of the pyramid;
- Vegetables and greens : lettuce, pumpkin, eggplant, cucumber, etc. – low intermediate;
- Fruits : apple, banana, strawberry, watermelon, pineapple, etc. – low intermediate;
- Milk and dairy products : milk, cheese and yogurt – high intermediate;
- Beans and oilseeds : beans, soy, lentils, chestnuts – high intermediate;
- Eggs and meat : eggs, red meat, fish, poultry – high intermediate;
- Sugars and sweets : cakes, chocolates, ice cream. refined sugar, honey, etc. – top of the pyramid;
- Fats and oils : soybean oils, olive oils, butter, bacon, margarine, etc. – top of the pyramid.
These groups are further divided into energy foods, regulators, builders and extra energy drinks. Understand:
Energetic foods are those that make up the base of the pyramid, followed by the recommendation of 6 servings daily for consumption, which represents their presence in all meals of the day.
They are part of the carbohydrate group and, as the name suggests, are the foods that provide the most energy.
Although it occupies the most prominent place in the pyramid, it is a group that receives much criticism, as the consumption of carbohydrates may not be very healthy. In excess, even less.
Some of the foods represented in the graph are bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and cassava. In the new food pyramid, for example, bread must be replaced by its full version.
In the group of regulators, fruits and vegetables are the representative foods. The recommended consumption is 3 servings daily, with variations of each item.
Milk, cheese, yogurt, meat, eggs, beans and legumes make up the group of food manufacturers. Just like regulating foods, the ideal amount proposed by the Brazilian food pyramid, which we will see shortly, is 3 servings of milk and dairy products and 1 serving of other foods.
Extra energy foods are part of the top of the pyramid and represent foods that should be eaten in moderation. Among them are oils, fats, sweets and sugars.
After the creation of the first food pyramid by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 1992, it was time for Brazilians to create their version of the pyramid.
The Brazilian version of the pyramid was created in 1999, but since then, some updates have been made to better adapt to the reality of Brazilians and the local scene. The idea of the pyramid is not just to say what should be consumed, but to be an aid to treat and prevent diseases such as obesity and anemia.
The proportions of the food pyramid remained, as did the food groups and their positions on the graph’s floors. With the update, what changed was the inclusion of typical Brazilian foods such as cashew, soursop and Brazil nuts.
In addition, healthier foods such as brown rice, dark green leaves, salmon and oilseeds have entered the pyramid, as an alert to cases of diseases related to poor diet.
This new pyramid also proposes to reduce calories, from 2500 Kcal per day to 2000 Kcal, a recommendation of sufficient energy for the Brazilian population, proposed by the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa), in 2005.
The food pyramid also recommends decreasing the time between meals, the ideal being the intake of food every 3 hours, in addition to including physical activity of at least 30 minutes a day.
The food pyramid can be a form of food education to be able to lose weight, but following the guide alone does not lose weight. By recommending more portions of carbohydrates, it is possible that there is even an increase in weight.
The techniques used to lose weight involve a number of factors, and following the pyramid helps, but that in itself does not work miracles.
First, the amount of carbohydrates ingested daily should be considered. It is not a rule, but by following what the food pyramid dictates you are consuming, on average, 900 Kcal of carbohydrates per day. Therefore, to lose weight, it would be necessary to have a very high caloric expenditure.
What is beneficial, and can be taken advantage of from the food pyramid to lose weight, is the fact that it presents the importance of a balanced diet, with varieties and encouraging physical exercise.
The food pyramid is an informative guide on the importance of a varied and healthy diet. It has benefits for our health, according to three basic principles. Understand:
To have a healthy diet it is necessary to always seek a greater variety of foods on our plate, as they complement each other. When we have a diverse menu, we complete with the present variety all the essential nutrients for our body.
For example, it is possible to consume foods rich in iron, vitamin C, Omega 3, calcium, zinc and other nutrients, however, hardly a single food group or food will be able to bring all of these nutrients in significant quantities.
Therefore, it is important to keep in mind what foods represent, in addition to calories. With the food pyramid and the recommendation of the portions, it is possible to compose diverse meals and, thus, reap the nutritional benefits of all groups or layers of the structure.
It is not necessary to have a radical diet to have better health. Excluding or prioritizing a particular food group can bring, instead of benefits, side effects for the individual on a diet.
The ideal is to always be accompanied by a doctor or a nutritionist, in order to have a better idea of the state of health and what should be removed or included in the diet.
Certainly, people who need to lose a lot of weight tend to avoid sugars, fats and other foods that are part of the top of the pyramid. What is recommended for all people is moderate consumption.
It is not possible to generalize, each case requires an individual analysis, but we must emphasize that the concept present in the pyramid is to seek a balance and eat a little of everything, with variety and common sense.
As well as recommending the practice of physical exercises, balance when choosing foods should be valued.
In the same way that the pyramid separates a good amount of daily servings from carbohydrates, it also recommends whole products, fruits and vegetables.
There are no prohibitions within the food pyramid, but the structure itself already determines what should be eaten in moderation.
Just as there are carbohydrates that do not have great health benefits, there are fats that are essential for health.
We can consider how the food pyramid seeks to inform an ideal food model, in moderation, a benefit for people who are inspired by this guide.
Although the food pyramid does not replace the guidance of a professional, it is an initial step for those who want to eat better and maintain a preventive attitude to diseases such as obesity, anemia, high cholesterol, cardiovascular diseases and other pathologies that may be associated with an unsatisfactory diet.
For many people, the food pyramid may represent only a division of the relevance of food groups, but it is still very illustrative and not applicable to everyday life. After all, how to use it on a daily basis?
One of the ways to put into practice the values established in the pyramid is when composing meals. Here are some tips on how to use the concepts in the guide:
- Consume foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, leaner meats (poultry or fish), beans, milk and dairy products;
- Avoid or try to reduce the consumption of industrialized sweets, fried foods and snacks. These changes will make a difference in your daily life;
- Read the labels and find out about the foods you eat;
- Pay attention to the amounts and types of fat present in food, the same with sugar;
- When consuming some type of candy, look for one that is based on fruits;
- Prefer vegetable oils for food preparation;
- Prioritize the consumption of skimmed milk, cheese and yogurt;
- Whole foods have good amounts of fiber, which helps to have a feeling of satiety and provides an improvement in bowel function;
- Consume raw vegetables and greens, so vitamins and minerals are better used;
- Consume the fruits of the season, and wash them well before eating.
The Brazilian food pyramid established that 2000 daily calories would be ideal for the Brazilian population to remain healthy and with enough energy for the customs of our country.
Learn the portions and how to divide the calories:
Fats and sweets – top of the pyramid
According to the food pyramid, each person should eat only a portion of each of these groups daily. Because they are at the top of the table, they represent the foods that should be consumed sparingly.
Some examples are butter, margarine, mayonnaise, oils and refined sugar. 1 or 2 servings a day should be consumed, with an average value of 75 calories from fats and up to 110 calories from sweet.
Animal and vegetable protein – high intermediate
Above them, in the pyramid, are meats, eggs and legumes. These foods are sources of protein and are essential for the construction and repair of tissues.
Red meats (steaks, ground beef), poultry (chicken, turkey), fish (sardines, hake) and eggs are animal sources of protein, important also because they are rich in B vitamins and minerals.
Attention to preparation is very important, as excessive intake of these foods increases the levels of fat in the blood. So, removing the chicken skin, apparent fats from the meats and avoiding preparing them fried are ways to reduce their levels.
Per day, it is recommended to eat 2 portions of meat or eggs, 190 calories, and 2 or 3 of milk and dairy products, with 120 calories.
Vegetables and greens – low middle
They represent the group of foods that are a source of fiber, minerals and vitamins. They also act to control the functioning and growth of our body.
Ideally, they should be eaten raw and before main meals. In this way, they reduce appetite. It is important to vary the consumption of vegetables and obtain the nutrients present from various sources.
It is recommended to eat 1 serving of 55 calories per day.
Fruits – low middle part
Fruits share the same space as the food pyramid next to greens. Just as important, they are also a source of fiber, vitamins and minerals essential for our health.
Each fruit, specifically, has a higher concentration of a vitamin. To be able to enjoy all the benefits, it is important to keep a good variety of fruits to eat.
Up to 3 70-calorie servings are recommended.
Carbohydrates – base of the pyramid
At the base of the food pyramid are carbohydrates. They are energetic foods and reach the bloodstream quickly, being, in most cases, converted into blood sugar.
In addition to being a source of energy, when in the full option, they are a good source of fiber, in addition to vitamins and minerals. They should be consumed, according to the graph, in 6 daily servings of about 160 calories.
The Brazilian food pyramid and the others, which dismembered from that first model created by the Americans, receive much criticism, with some nutritionists putting them as the culprits for outbreaks of obesity, diabetes, overweight and other diseases.
Thus, the idea behind the pyramid, to prevent these diseases, would be a myth. The risks of following what the food pyramid says are associated with high consumption of carbohydrates and low consumption of essential fats.
Some complications associated with this food guide, added to a sedentary life and bad habits are:
The consumption of refined carbohydrates, such as pasta, cookies, breads and other foods, can pose a health risk, as they can cause a very rapid rise in blood glucose levels.
Consequently, this increase causes an increase in insulin, the hormone responsible for introducing glucose into cells. Thus, there is a risk that the individual will develop diabetes, as a complication of an inadequate diet.
Carbohydrates are energetic foods, just as they do us good they can also cause the body to start storing fat. When there is more consumption than energy expenditure, the person may end up gaining weight. Thus, diseases related to overweight can arise.
In addition to the risks that, in the long run, the person may go into obesity, the cells may become so resistant to this rise in insulin that sugar (glucose) may end up damaging several healthy cells in our body and causing diabetes other complications.
There are several criticisms of the food pyramid and the questions raised are valid for a discussion about something so important: our food.
Our habits and customs constantly change. With the food is no different, there are also some updates.
The food pyramid can be a valuable tool for disseminating information on how to follow a healthier diet, but this guide alone is not enough to have a better and healthier life.
However, it can be a first step towards food education, along with the habits of maintaining a routine of visits to the doctor, practicing physical exercises and seeking a life with greater well-being, physically and mentally.
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