Tuesday, June 2, 2015

New Healthy Eating Pyramid

In May 2015, Nutrition Australia launched the updated Healthy Eating Pyramid (Pyramid). There have been some changes in the design of the Pyramid but this does not reflect a change in the recommendations for the amounts or types of core foods to include in a balanced diet.

The Pyramid is a as a tool to promote a balanced diet in line with the evidenced-based Australian Dietary Guidelines. It visually depicts the core food groups and the relative proportions that average Australians across all age groups should consume in one day for good health.

The updated Pyramid is no longer broken into the three distinct layers (‘eat most’ which consisted of all plant foods i.e. vegetables & legumes, fruit and grains, ‘eat moderately’ and ‘eat in small amounts’). Rather, the Pyramid has been broken into four distinct horizontal layers and each of the core food groups is now clearly defined. In line with the previous versions of the Pyramid, plant-based foods make up the foundation layers, with fruit, vegetables and legumes emphasised in the very bottom layer, followed by grain foods (now positioned above fruit and vegetables rather than alongside them).  The recommended daily serves remain in-line with the Australian Dietary Guidelines. The change in the style of the foundation layers to two horizontal layers does not represent a change in the importance of grain-based foods in a healthy balanced diet but reinforces their place as a cornerstone of the diet.

In regards to core grain foods, the Pyramid encourages Australians to enjoy a variety of grain foods, mostly whole grain. It is important remember that the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommends high fibre grain foods as well as whole grain foods as there is evidence for health benefits of both these types of grain foods. To reflect the wide variety of core grains foods currently available to Australians, the Pyramid now displays additional options (such as quinoa, couscous and soba noodles) alongside traditional core grain foods such as breads, breakfast cereals, rice and crispbreads.

The importance of legumes is also highlighted in the Pyramid. As nutrient-rich plant foods, legume-based foods are within one of the two foundation layers of the Pyramid (i.e. fruit, vegetables and legumes layer), as well as being displayed as a source of protein - alongside lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds groups. This highlights the potential of legumes such as lentils, beans, chickpeas and soy products (like tofu) to contribute to Australians’ diets.

Core grain foods and legumes continue to be emphasised in the Pyramid along with other plant foods as the foundation of a balanced diet. This is an important public health message as the latest National Nutrition Survey findings demonstrate that the majority of Australians are not consuming legumes regularly, and Australians are falling well short of recommended intakes of vegetables, fruit and core grain foods. By not meeting recommendations, many Australians are missing out on nutrition and health benefits associated with a balanced diet that is rich in plant foods.

In support of the evidence-based Australians Dietary Guidelines, GLNC encourages Australians to enjoy core grain foods 3-4 times each day, choosing at least half as whole grain or high fibre, as well as aiming to enjoy legumes at least 2-3 times each week within a balanced diet.

It is important to remember that the Pyramid does not replace the Australian Dietary Guidelines, nor does it replace tailored advice from an Accredited Practising Dietitian.