What’s new in the healthy eating pyramid?


Added sugar gets the flick and grains get promoted in the latest incarnation of Australia’s Healthy Eating Pyramid.Shivaun Conn investigates what else has changed.

Australia has a new Healthy Eating Pyramid, an updated guide on the types and proportions of foods we need to eat every day for good health. Based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines (2013), it depicts whole foods and minimally-processed foods in the five core food groups, plus healthy fats. It encourages water, herbs and spices, and discourages salt and added sugar.

Why a new pyramid?

AGTHE ‘Plate’: source: National Health and Medical Research Council

Australia’s first pyramid dates back to 1980 and there have been several versions since then. Previous pyramids had only three layers, (1) ‘eat more’ at the base, which depicted all plant-based foods (vegetables, fruit and grains), (2) ‘eat moderately’ in the middle, which

depicted dairy foods (and dairy alternatives) and meats (and meat alternatives), and (3) ‘eat in small amounts’ at the top, which depicted added fats and sugars.

What’s changed?

Previous pyramids (2004 and 2007) included a physical activity layer and were called the ‘Healthy Living Pyramid’ to promote physical activity as well as healthy eating. The 2015 version has been renamed as the ‘Healthy Eating Pyramid’ to reflect a renewed focus on food and nutrition messages only.

The new Healthy Eating Pyramid has separated out the five food groups, eliminated added sugars, included only healthy fats at the top of the pyramid and updated the variety of foods. These changes are to reflect the recommendations from the latest Australian Dietary Guidelines, to provide more definition about how much each food group contributes to a daily diet, and to reflect current dietary behaviours.

Vegetables and legumes

There is a large emphasis on eating mostly vegetables and legumes, which, along with fruit, make up the largest layer on the bottom of the pyramid. Vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, and have been strongly associated with a decreased risk of weight gain, cardiovascular disease and site-specific cancers. As only 8.2 per cent of Australians consume enough vegetables daily (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014) the new pyramid highlights the importance of making vegetables the core of our diets.

Grains

Grain foods were previously included in the bottom layer with vegetables, but have been moved up a level, and there is now an emphasis on choosing wholegrains over refined grains. Wholegrains provide a range of nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, fibre, B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus. However, as they are more energy-dense than vegetables the quantities we consume should be less.

Healthy fats

The top layer refers to healthy fats because although we need a little fat in our diet not all fats are created equal. The bulk of existing evidence still suggests we limit sources of saturated fat and instead choose unsaturated fats from sources such as extra virgin olive oil, nut and seed oils and avocados.

Sugar

Sugar and sources of unsaturated fat have been removed from the pyramid as the aim of the chart is to convey what we should eat in a day, not what we should restrict. The message to ‘limit added sugar’ has been strengthened, however, by inserting it next to the ‘limit added salt’ icon.

KEY POINTS OF THE NEW HEALTHY EATING PYRAMID – WHAT’S CHANGED?
  • The bottom layer contains only vegetables, legumes and fruit
  • The grains group has been moved up a layer and has a focus on wholegrains
  • New foods have been included such as quinoa, tofu and soy milk
  • Added sugar and unhealthy fats are not included in the pyramid
  • Only healthy fats remain at the top of the pyramid
  • ‘Limit added sugar’ has been added to the ‘limit added salt’ icon
  • ‘Enjoy herbs and spices’ has been added as an alternative to salt or sugar
  • The physical activity layer has been removed and the pyramid’s name has changed from ‘Healthy Living Pyramid’ to ‘Healthy Eating Pyramid’ to reflect the renewed focus on food and nutrition messages only.

Herbs and spices

The reminder ‘Enjoy herbs and spices’ has been added to encourage the use of fresh, dried or ground herbs and spices as healthy alternatives to salt or sugar when flavouring meals.

Pyramid vs Plate?

What has the Healthy Eating Pyramid got to do with the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating’s plate model?

The ‘Healthy Eating Pyramid’ was developed by Nutrition Australia, a Non-Government organisation, as a conceptual model designed to assist Australians in making healthy food and lifestyle choices.

In 1998 the government developed and sanctioned a food selection guide called ‘The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating’ (AGTHE) or ‘Plate’ developed by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services. The five food groups are displayed as ‘wedges’ or portions of a dinner plate.

The Healthy Living Pyramid, rather than replace, is designed to complement the AGTHE plate model by furthering understanding of which foods should make up the majority of a healthy diet. It is simply a different tool to help people understand what foods they need to eat to make up a healthy daily diet.

Bottom line: It doesn’t really matter if you prefer your food selection guide as a circle or a triangle, as long as you feel confident about what you need to eat to live a long, happy, healthy life.


Shivaun Conn, BSc (Nut) APD AN
An Accredited Practising Dietitian, health coach, director of Discovery Health Coaching and sub-committee member of the Australian Lifestyle Medicine Association, Shivaun is the nutrition expert for the Australian Institute of Fitness. She coaches individuals in nutrition and lifestyle, trains practitioners in health behaviour change, and develops nutrition programs across a range of sectors.

THIS ARTICLE WAS FROM THE AUSTRALIAN FITNESS NETWORK

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