Everyone has seen the set of diagrams of what nutritionists call the “food pyramid.” It breaks common foods down into major categories and suggests how much of each type of food people should consume each and every day. But have you ever looked closely at the diagram and tried to figure out exactly how to build a typical meal based on its guidance? Actually, it an interesting exercise to put a large poster of the food pyramid on your refrigerator and use it to plan meals. You can do this on a weekly, daily or ad hoc basis. Here’s a quick example of how to approach the challenge and create your own healthy meal with guidance from the pyramid:
Know the Basics
The top of the pyramid, the narrowest portion, lists foods you should use sparingly. Oils, fats and “spreads” are in this category and should be used sparingly, or as nutritionists are fond of saying, “… in very limited amounts.” The next level down, and a bit wider than the top section, includes nuts, beans, poultry, meat, eggs and fish. Aim for two servings per day. Next down is the yogurt, cheese and milk section, where you are advised to eat about three servings per day.
The second-largest section of the pyramid is “rice, pasta, cereals, potatoes and bread.” The range is wide here, with suggested servings per day between three and seven. Opt for the higher side if you are a teen or an active man. Others can get by on the lower number of servings per day. The “vegetables and fruits” section is at the bottom and is the widest of all, which means you should eat more servings from this category than any other. Aim for five to seven servings per day.
Understand What a “Serving” Is
People often wonder what a “serving” is. If you’re dealing with poultry, fish or meat, think in terms of 2 or 3 ounces per serving. If meat is not your cup of tea, an alternative protein serving would be a single egg, one-third cup of nuts, one-half cup of dried/cooked beans or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. For grains, the measurements are different. One slice of bread, one-half cup of hot cereal or one cup of cold cereal is equivalent to a serving.
For fruits and vegetables, a serving can be estimated easily. It’s a cup of green veggies or an average-sized fruit. Fruit juices, because they are denser, are just three-quarters of a cup per serving. Dairy is also simple to calculate for serving sizes. One cup of milk or a cup of yogurt constitutes a serving. For cheese, whether processed, natural or vegan, like Miyoko cheese, a serving is between 1.5 and 2 ounces.
Experts say we should take the food pyramids guidelines with a grain of salt, no pun intended. For growing teens and very active young adults, servings should usually be increases. Likewise, older or inactive adults should opt for fewer servings in each category.
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