Food pyramid: description, history, Mediterranean diet

The food pyramid is a way of graphically synthesizing what is the correct diet and suggests the right proportion, variety and moderation in food intake. Let's find out better.

What is the food pyramid?

No food is complete, no food contains all the nutrients the body needs, so to eat in a healthy and balanced way, the choice must be changed as much as possible.

The food pyramid brings together three essential characteristics for a healthy diet: it suggests the right proportion, as well as the variety and moderation in food intake.

It is therefore an attempt to summarize, in a single image through a reference graphic model, the frequency with which different foods should be used in eating habits and therefore to guide nutritional choices both during the short period (one day) and during the medium term (one week).

It is aimed at all adults of adulthood and there are different types but, in general, the principle with which they are built is the same: at the base are the foods that must be consumed every day and, going up towards the apex, the frequency of intake of the various foods thins out; in addition, each food corresponds to the recommended intake frequencies.

However, the food pyramid takes into account the evolution of times and society, highlighting the importance of doing physical activity, preferring seasonal products, recognizing the right importance to the conviviality of meals; also drink a lot of water, alternate colors and varieties of vegetables and fruit, use herbs and spices to reduce the addition of salt, limit the consumption of alcohol.

Origins and history of the food pyramid

In 1992, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) officially created a food guide with the aim of showing in a simple, visual and immediate way the bases of a healthy and correct diet and therefore to reduce the risk of chronic diseases in the population .

At the base were placed cereals, their derivatives and tubers (to be consumed in abundance every day), at the second level were indicated fruits and vegetables to be taken in high quantities, above still the plastic foods (meat, fish, eggs, cheeses) to be consumed in moderation and at the apex condiment fats and simple sugars to be introduced in small quantities.

The American Food Pyramid a, however, has failed to reduce conditions such as obesity and cardiovascular disease since not all nutritional information was correct. It would have been more correct to suggest the consumption of complex carbohydrates from whole foods .

Furthermore, among the foods to be restricted, we have seasoning oils and fats for which we need to make the necessary differences; in fact, saturated fats of animal origin and trans-unsaturated fats contained in margarines or products during frying are dangerous to our health . Instead, the right amount of unsaturated fats contained in raw vegetable oils exerts a protective action on the cardiovascular system.

However, even with these errors, soon the American Food Pyramid became an icon all over the world and even in Italy the indications provided by the pyramid were widely used in the context of food education activities.

The Italian Food Pyramid was developed in 2005 by nutritionists of the University "La Sapienza" of Rome, with the intention of designing a specific food model for our country, corrected from a nutritional point of view and respectful of the Mediterranean food tradition.

The food pyramid proposes a correct lifestyle, translating into Quantity Wellbeing (QB) both the appropriate quantities of food to be introduced daily, and the motor activity to be performed during the week.

To stay healthy we must therefore introduce QB in the form of food and conquer QB in the form of movement. Each QB of food corresponds to a portion of it.

At the base of the pyramid we find foods of vegetable origin rich in non-energetic nutrients (vitamins, minerals and water) and protective substances; going up towards the top there are foods with higher energy density (sweets and condiments), to be consumed in moderation to prevent overweight and metabolic diseases.

Food pyramid based on the Mediterranean diet

The lifestyle of today is characterized by a great availability of food and by an increasingly widespread sedentary lifestyle, where the increase in life expectancy is also marked by the increase in the risk of food-related diseases.

The most famous food pyramid and certainly one of the first to have been created, is based on the Mediterranean diet. This food model, which can help us to obtain a complete and balanced supply of nutrients, is inspired by the food traditions of the countries facing the Mediterranean basin (in particular Italy, southern France, Greece, Spain, but also neighboring countries East and North Africa).

"Protagonists" of the Mediterranean food tradition are olive oil, cereals (in Italy above all pasta, rice and bread), wine, legumes, fruit and all vegetables. However, the Mediterranean diet is not only vegetarian; the addition of the right amounts of animal products (meat, with particular regard to the non-bovine one, milk, eggs, fish, cheeses) ensures a valid, balanced diet, suitable for any age and able to considerably reduce the risk of "diseases of well-being "typical of our age.

You can learn more about how the benefits and contraindications of the Mediterranean diet work

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