A New Food Pyramid
This week, Nutrition Australia revised their food pyramid for the first time in 15 years. The food pyramid is the diagram that you will probably have seen in your doctor’s waiting room. It reflects the current national public health recommendations about a healthy diet. The message is simple: eat more of what is down the bottom and less of what is up the top! This one has some important and welcome changes. Now, vegetables and fruits make up the whole of the bottom layer of the pyramid, and highly processed food are booted off entirely!
It’s a really fantastic development in nutrition – and sustainability. Nutrition Australia were motivated by the feeling that their old pyramid was creating a bit of confusion. That uncertainty was allowing fad diets and even dangerous ones to gain precedence. The official Australian Guide to Healthy Eating was also updated in 2013 and they changed their diagram to be more in line with that. Now the recommendation is clear and it’s what our grandmothers have been telling us all along: eat your vegetables!
Fresh fruits and vegetables are also the foods that have the least environmental impact. Calculations are complicated and it really is difficult to compare foods, but there is general agreement among researchers that this is the case. Compare this new pyramid with the Barilla double pyramid that connects food and sustainability. It is a great representation of the way the things that are the best for us to eat are also the things that are least harmful for the planet. Now, these issues are complex and pyramids like this tend to simplify so they aren’t perfect classifications BUT they do make good guides.
I love that this new food pyramid makes it clear that added salt and sugar should be avoided. Highly processed and packaged foods – often called discretionary foods – are full of added salt and sugar. By eliminating them, you’ll also be eliminating foods that have a high environmental cost. That’s another big tick for sustainability.
I find this aspect of public health so interesting. National dietary guidelines are so influential and political so there is always jostling between interest groups around their formation. Diets are so complicated and multifaceted so it is a big challenge is to represent a good diet in a diagram. However, this one does a good job. It shows real foods, not abstracted ‘food groups’ like say the US choosemyplate diagram. In fact, our new food pyramid is envied over there! I also love the active language and the repeated use of the word ‘enjoy’, because healthy food shouldn’t be about denial it should be a cause of celebration. There is a way to go before our guidelines are as progressive as Brazil’s that really embrace the reality of eating in context but I still think this change is a healthy and sustainable one.