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The evolution of the Healthy Eating Pyramid

13 May, 2016

With fad diets, celebrity eating plans and misleading advice surrounding food, it’s easy to be confused about what you should and should not be eating. As a way to settle this confusion, Nutrition Australia offers a Healthy Eating Pyramid, which serves as a simple visual guide to the types and proportions of food that should be eaten each day to promote good health. 

Nutrition Australia’s Pyramid has continually evolved for over 30 years, always with the same aim: to encourage Australians to eat a varied and balanced diet in line with current dietary guidelines. 

In 2015, Nutrition Australia launched and updated version of the Pyramid, offering a fresh new look and targeted health messages. 

The Healthy Eating Pyramid today

The Healthy Eating Pyramid depicts the types and proportions of food the average Australian should consume in one day for good health. It was prompted following revision of the 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines and reflects the current dietary evidence base, population health messages and consumer needs. 

The review process has included a literature review on the effectiveness of various food selection models, consultation with educators and health professionals and rigorous internal discussion. While a new design is in place, it’s essentially a twist on a consistent theme which tells consumers to:

  • Enjoy a variety of foods from the five food groups;
  • Choose mostly plant-based foods;
  • Limit added saturated fats, sugar and salt;
  • Choose water as your main drink.

What is new is a more detailed message which describes the effect of each of the five food groups, and separated layers to provide greater information within the original Pyramid structure. For example, the “Eat More” layer has been separated into three main food groups: vegetables & legumes, fruit and grains, while the middle “Eat Moderately” layer has been separated into milk, cheese & yoghurt, lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes. 

Also new is a twist on the top layer, which once depicted an “Eat in Small Amounts” layer that referred to the amount of added fats and sugar consumed. According to surveyed consumers, educators and health professionals, the message of the Pyramid shouldn’t be to convey what NOT to eat. So instead, the top layer now highlights a need for small amounts of unsaturated fats such as almonds and avocados.

(Image Source: click here to see a bigger version)

What else is new?

  • The Pyramid has always included a salt shaker with a cross through it, but in the updated version, sugar has been added to the shaker also. This icon symbolises the need for consumers to limit their added sugar and salt intake;
  • The words “Enjoy herbs and spices” have been added, encouraging Australians to find new flavours and add fresh, dried, or ground herbs and spices for an affordable alternative to salt;
  • The “Move More” layer of the Pyramid has been removed to refocus the attention on food and nutrition. Physical activity is still promoted, however, with the tagline, “Enjoy a variety of foods and be active every day”;
  • Carb-rich foods are no longer included in with vegetables, having moved up a level. This placement reflects the view that plant foods (vegetables, fruit and grains) should make up the largest portion of our diet (around 70%);
  • Australia’s changing dietary patterns and cultural diversity are reflected, with a wider range of foods included in each group. For example, the grains food group now includes quinoa and soba noodles. 

Why a pyramid?

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and this is certainly true when it comes to the Healthy Eating Pyramid. The Pyramid has been based on a painstaking review of a massive body of research papers (more than 55,000) to give consumers the most evidence-based advice in a quick visual. The Pyramid takes the guesswork out of healthy eating and can be stuck on the fridge or pantry to entice you to eat better every day. 

The Healthy Eating Pyramid is an ‘at-a-glance’ way to grasp the most up-to-date understanding of good nutrition. 

What should you take away from it?

Key points to be taken from the Healthy Eating Pyramid are: 

1. Eat mainly vegetables (and legumes and fruit)

A diet with plenty of unprocessed plant foods has been linked to a reduced incidence of some of our biggest killers, including cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Plus plant foods are high in fibre, which helps us to feel full and manage our weight. 

2. Eat healthy whole grains

While the new pyramid reduces the amount of carbs we need, it still shows that carbs in the form of whole grains are needed. Carbs are energy dense, therefore we don’t need them as much as vegetables, but carbs such as brown rice, quinoa, oats and whole wheat pasta are hugely beneficial for your health and energy. 

3. Mix up your protein

Each type of protein provides a unique mix of nutrients, therefore a variety of meat and non-meat options is important. Don’t forget milk, yoghurt, cheese and alternatives that not only give you protein, but calcium too. 

4. Don’t be scared of fat

A little bit of fat supports a healthy heart and proper brain function, but the bulk of existing evidence still suggests we should stay away from saturated fat. This means fat should come in the form of plant oils like olive oil and canola, or foods such as avocados, nuts, seeds and fish. 

5. Drink lots of water

Water has and always will trump any soft drink, fruit juice, smoothie, sports drink or energy drink. 

6. Limit salt and sugar

Too much salt and added sugar is linked to increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, so refrain from adding it to cooking, and avoid processed or packaged foods with high salt and sugar content. 

Why use it?

The latest health survey data shows that the average Australian is getting more than a third of their daily energy intake from junk foods, while less than seven percent of people eat enough vegetables and only half eat enough fruit.

How to use it:

The Healthy Eating Pyramid should guide you in your food choices rather than tell you what not to eat. It’s important to realise that you don’t need to restrict foods and follow “cut-out” diets in order to be healthy. Instead it’s about adding more of the “good” foods to your diet to create a balanced and nutritious diet.



All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified medical practitioner. CBHS endeavours to provide independent and complete information, and content may include information regarding services, products and procedures not covered by CBHS Health Cover policies. For full terms, click here.

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