February 12, 2012

Food Pyramids: What to Eat 101.

Kate Leinweber, B.Sc R.H.N

The confusing world of food pyramids

In today’s world we are constantly bombarded with dietary advice, what on earth are we to eat?

The Canada Food Guide has 4 food groups, the USDA MyPlate has 5 food groups, and every country in Europe has their own version of recommendations. The world seems to be completely confused as to what to put in our bodies.

As a microbiologist, I understand on the molecular level what creates life. There are Macronutrients (Protein, Carbohydrates, Fat) and Micronutrients (Vitamins & Minerals). And of course there is even more to foods that scientists cannot fully understand. The energetics of food, preparation methods, and mindful eating practices play a large part in our ability to digest, absorb and assimilate nutrients.

What are we to think of the weekly fluctuations in recommendations based on Scientific studies of isolated nutrients and the North American diet? Studies based on isolated nutrients provide conclusions based on partial truths. Clinical studies do not take whole diet or lifestyle into consideration in their conclusions. My philosophy is to listen to my Grandmother! Let’s not reinvent the wheel here, and just look back at Traditional Diets. After all, heart disease and cancer have only been increasing since the 20’s, when industrialization of food was introduced (pasteurization, homogenization, canning, packaging of foods). Healthy diets included 45-70% Carbohydrates, 20-40% fat, and 10-15% Protein. The sources of these foods came from whole, Unprocessed foods that were full of vitamins and minerals. 

What is food?

Carbohydrates = Energy, Protein = Balance, Fat = Endurance

Macronutrients are what makes up food and our bodies. These include Carbohydrates, Protein & Fat.  When these macronutrients come from whole food sources they contain the micronutrients; vitamins and minerals. Each food has its own special characteristics with differing levels of macro and micronutrients. This is why it is important to eat a variety of colourful whole foods.

Carbohydrates are found in whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit. When choosing grains always look for Whole grains to make sure you are getting the vitamins and minerals from the outer shell. Carbohydrates provide an easily digestible form of quick energy. Healthy traditional diets included 40-75% carbohydrates. To boost your morning start with some whole rolled oats for breakfast.

Protein is found in whole grains, legumes, nuts & seeds, eggs, dairy and meats. We do not need a huge amount of protein in our diet, 10-15% protein makes up traditional diets. If we supplement protein it can cause a craving for carbohydrates or sweets to balance the excess.

Fat is what provides endurance to the body through the day. Healthy fats are required in the body for energy supply, hormone production, absorption of vitamins A, D, E & K, and vibrant skin and hair. Fat intake of traditional diets ranged from 20-40%, with an important caveat. Fats were always of highest quality and were not processed or rancid, and came from the whole food source.

The Non Foods

The Non foods were once upon a time whole foods, but have been processed or had a part of them removed. For example white sugar was once sugar cane full of vitamins and minerals to aid the digestion of this rich carbohydrate source. But those micronutrients are removed in processing and the white sugar left over strips our body of minerals needed for digestion. Nutrient debt is created from eating processed foods since they are missing some or all of their naturally occurring vitamins and minerals. Nutrient debt can result in fatigue, poor mental function, hormonal imbalance, or digestive issues. The non-foods include: refined sugar (found in baked goods, baby formula, pop, and many other hidden sources), trans fats, processed grains (white flour, corn flakes, white rice etc), processed dairy products (skim milk and skim milk products), protein powders, refined salt, and chemical additives.

The Big Picture

This information may lead you to think you can never have a piece of birthday cake again or enjoy ice cream on a hot day. This is where something called the 80/20 rule comes into play. When 80% of the diet comes from rich whole foods full of vitamins and minerals then the body will be strong enough to deal with 20% treats. So you can enjoy celebrations through the year guilt free knowing that you have supported your body with healthy food choices.


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