Healthy eating pyramid

In the topsy-turvy world of nutrition we’re all bombarded with “eat lots of this, don’t eat any of that because it will probably kill you” messages that leave us confused at best and disordered eaters at worst.

Why have we made our own healthy eating pyramid?

We don’t believe in cutting food groups at fitnaturally but our weekly healthy eating plans help people to focus on plant foods as a sound nutrition-basis and to weave all the other other foods around those. We don’t believe that eating a lot of meat and poultry is healthy, ethical or good for the planet. We do believe in eating it though, ‘eat better and be active every day’ is our second tag line and a good basis for both a healthy diet and for maintaining a healthy level of body fat.

fitnaturally's healthy eating pyramid
fitnaturally’s healthy eating pyramid drawn by artist Madeleine Wallace

 

How does the fitnaturally healthy eating pyramid work in real life?

If you think of your dinner plate, your main meal, the largest part of it should be vegetables or salad with the ‘side dishes’ being the carbs and protein. That’s whole carbs, so root vegetables, wholegrain rice and pasta and so on. Protein is beans, pulses, eggs, fish and shellfish, poultry, meat or cheese, in that order. Vary the protein type across the week including some from all types but more from those at the wider parts of our pyramid.

Looking beyond the main meal your day should include other whole grains such as oats and wholemeal real bread as well as other dairy foods such as full fat plain yoghurt, kefir, whole milk and butter. Have a few nuts and seeds and a little fruit, a slightly heaped cupped hands of fruit a day is about right. Use unrefined vegetable oils to dress salads and vegetables or for gentle frying or roasting; extra virgin olive oil works perfectly for so many things. You can also happily use animal fats for roasting certain foods, such as potatoes – goose fat or lard work well but fats and oils are at the narrower end of the healthy eating pyramid. Despite what we hear from the currently popular ‘low carb high fat’ regime, fat, while necessary, is very high in energy. You’ll get more bang for your buck filling up on veg than you will filling up on fatty foods.

Why do you put beans and pulses as such a large part of the diet?

Firstly because they’re high in fibre which makes your gut very happy and healthy; gut microbes need fibre as a food. If there’s not much fibre the gut has fewer beneficial microbes because they’ve literally been starved out. The effect of gut microbes on our general health is a hotly researched topic at the moment, an emerging science and one that could transform the way we eat and the way we prevent and treat illness and disease.

Secondly because they’re a great low-fat form of protein, while beans don’t contain the full range of essential amino acids like animal proteins when they’re combined with grains the full set is present. So the humble beans on toast provides a meal of complete protein.

Last but not least, they’re cheap and delicious! Switching to beans and pulses and eating less animal protein will save you a substantial amount of money, which you can then spend on a variety of beautiful vegetables and *some* great quality fish, poultry and meat. Try our gorgeous lentil and tomato bolognese, it’s fooled many a meat-eater!

But most people are saying reduce grain foods and carbohydrates

They are aren’t they? We don’t agree. Whole grains and root vegetables provide important nutrients and fibre as well as energy. Our healthy eating plans teach people how to eat them without overeating them and how to choose healthy carbs rather than pappy mass-produced bread, cakes, biscuits and cereals.

What about fruit? It’s just sugar, right?

Yes fruit is ‘sugary’ but it’s also fibrous and full of vitamins and minerals. Eating an apple or banana isn’t the same as eating a packet of Haribo. Fruit is bulky, it fills us up, the sugar release is slowed by the fibre in the flesh and the skin. Read our recent blog How much fruit is too much?

I can eat as many nuts and seeds as I want though right, because they’re healthy?

They are very healthy and should be eaten every day. They’re also very energy dense so if you eat as many as you like you’ll find yourself in bigger clothes pretty soon’ish. About one level cupped handful a day is right. Nuts and seeds give us healthy natural fats to support nerve and brain function, and a range of minerals including magnesium, zinc, calcium and phosphorus needed for bone development, immunity and energy production. They also provide fibre, again for that healthy gut and microbiome. We tend to include them with breakfast on our eatnaturally plans such as our hugely popular Cool Porridge.

Side note: We had a dilemma representing the fruit against nuts and seeds on the healthy eating pyramid. Really the nuts and seeds ought to appear above the fruit but we wanted to downplay the fruit very slightly as people tend to think of fruit as a ‘free food’ when it’s very much not (and nor is anything come to that).

How do you define ‘better’ fish, meat and poultry

With animal proteins pay a little more, eat a little less. Go for sustainably produced, high welfare organic produce. Not only will you get better quality, tastier food but you’ll be reducing the suffering caused to animals and fish, and the environment, by factory farming. If you can get to a farmer’s market you can ask questions to the actual producer to be sure what you’re buying meets the above criteria. You can buy quality meat and fish online and freeze it or you can find a local butcher or fishmonger and know the source and welfare standards of your food.

Are beans and pulses environmentally friendly?

The beauty of beans and pulses is that each area of the world has its own variety, they’re native to almost everywhere. The UK’s range is somewhat limited so yes if we want to eat more than broad beans and peas we need to import them but Spain produces wonderful crops and is not too far away. Also remember that the amount of standalone protein we need each day will fit into one cupped hand so we don’t need huge amounts. All food contains an element of protein, even something like cauliflower. Protein deficiency in the western world is virtually unheard of.

I’ve seen so many food pyramids, why should I trust fitnaturally’s?

People are different, they can make up their own minds and eat however suits them best. fitnaturally’s style of eating reflected in this pyramid works well for our clients, they feel good, they say their nails, skin and hair are strong and healthy, they feel more energetic, they spend less on food, they love the food and so do their families and friends, they get to a healthy weight and stay there. It works and it’s not faddy.

Nutrition is an ever-moving science, always something new to learn but fitnaturally works on the foundation that we do well eating as wide a variety of foods as possible, with the basis being plant foods. It’s not right or wrong, it’s how we do it. There is some very healthy bias in the pyramid, we want people to eat more vegetables, people don’t eat enough veg! We’d like them to eat fruit but stop seeing it as a free food, we see a big future in beans and pulses as a cheap, easy and sustainable source of protein, we think they’re the future and would like people to move beyond the one tin of baked beans they eat every three weeks on average! So we’ve made the pyramid to suit those aims. Try it yourself and see how well you feel. Nothing is missing from it so you can’t go wrong.

Eat well without even thinking about pyramids! Get an eatnaturally plan in your life every week.

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