The iconic Healthy Eating Pyramid that we’re all familiar with has finally been updated to reflect Australia’s changing dietary patterns and cultural diversity, and stop the confusion caused by fad food trends.

It’s been 15 years since Nutrition Australia’s Healthy Eating Pyramid has been altered in any major way but with diet-related illnesses becoming an epidemic, it is clearly time to up the ante with everyday food education.

Currently Australia seems to be stuck in a cloud of nutrition confusion, pulled this way by Paleo and the other way by everything else that’s trending right now in the dietsphere.

The vast amount of available information on nutrition, eating plans and food in general is overwhelming and it’s no wonder that many people choose to stick their head in the sand (or rather, in the fridge to grab a sugary snack). Right now, according to health survey data, more than 50 per cent of Australians are either overweight or obese and the numbers will keep climbing unless education about nutrition is simplified.

Of course, it is always the individual’s responsibility to take care of the body and make good choices surrounding their food intake, but having a simple, easy-to-understand and aesthetically-pleasing diagram can’t hurt.

Lucinda Hancock, Executive Officer and Accredited Nutritionist at Nutrition Australia Vic Division, agrees. “Nutrition Australia has made cosmetic changes over the years,” she explains, “but when the revised Australian Dietary Guidelines were released by the National Health and Medical Research Council, we knew it was time to have our Healthy Eating Pyramid accurately reflect that.

“The new guidelines have been based on over 55,000 different scientific papers and pull together the most up-to-date and well-researched information.”

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Most people would be very familiar with the food pyramid, having been taught about it in school but the new pyramid provides clearer advice on the five core food groups everyone should aim to eat every day for a healthy balanced diet.

Hancock said health professionals are concerned about the amount of conflicting and confusing information about food and nutrition and hope this new food Pyramid will help reduce this. “The new Pyramid cuts through the misleading information and fad diets that are getting so much attention,” she says, “and provides Australians with a credible, flexible and realistic guide to eating well.”

With so much visual stimulation due to technology and so much information readily available at our fingertips, the new Healthy Eating Pyramid has condensed the main points down into a catchy and colourful visual diagram with a number of core messages added on in text.

There are major differences between the new and previous Pyramid, the biggest being the new version separates each layer into the five specific food groups, rather than the Eat Most/ Eat Moderately/ Eat Least way used previously.

Nutrition Australia hopes this will provide a clear visual for dividing your food intake and clearer information about how much each one contributes to a balanced diet.

So – how should we actually be eating these days?

Plant-based foods are still your number one, go-to food group, making up the foundation layers and include vegetables and legumes, fruits and grains. These layers make up the largest portion of the Pyramid because plant foods should make up the largest portion of your diet (aim for 70 per cent of your food intake).

Why should we be eating these foods in the largest amounts? They contain a wide variety of nutrients like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and are also the main source of carbohydrates and fibre in your diet. A wider range of foods included within each group (including quinoa and soba noodles) have been introduced to reflect Australia’s changing dietary patterns and cultural diversity.

The servings remain the same – five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit per day minimum. And from the grains group, choose whole grains (think brown rice, oats and quinoa), and wholemeal/wholegrain varieties of bread, pasta, crisp breads and cereal foods.

Moving up on, the next group to become friends with is protein foods and dairy. Don’t become as chummy with them as you are with your best friends, fruits and vegetables, but dairy and protein should be consumed in moderate amounts (include lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes). The new version also includes a calcium-fortified dairy alternative like soy milk.

Hancock points out that this different way of grouping in food groups rather than the Eat More/Eat Moderately/Eat Less layout will be easier to understand and integrate. She acknowledges that one of the major changes was the omission of the added fats and sugars which were at the top of the old food Pyramid. Instead, she says, “there is an allowance for healthy fats like olive oil but we have removed the inclusion of anything containing added sugars.”

The Pyramid also encourages you to make water your drink of choice, and advises you to limit salt and added sugar. Instead, the Pyramid advises adding herbs and spices to flavour your food.

Certain items were conspicuously absent from the revised Healthy Eating Pyramid including coffee, which as we all know, is a life force and a mainstay for many. “One of the trickiest aspects to designing this Pyramid is what to include and omit,” Hancock admits. “You can’t put everything on there so we instead chose to focus on the core messages that we felt would have the biggest impact on people’s health.” She adds that coffee wasn’t excluded for any particular reason, but they chose to promote only water as the best option for healthy living.

“As educators, we have to be selective about what we share and the focus for this was on the key messages.”

And clearly education is desperately needed, as the health of the average Australian is less than spectacular and appears to be getting worse, rapidly. The main message Nutrition Australia are hoping to get across is to simply cut down on junk food and sugary drinks and eat mostly from the core food groups – especially fruits and vegetables.

Hancock shares the horrifying statistics that many people are getting more than one third of their entire daily intake from junk food and only 7 per cent of us are eating enough vegetables.

She admits that there is probably “a small pocket of people who do eat very well but most Australians don’t, as reflected in the high obesity rates”.

It’s time to take control of your health, follow the new Healthy Eating Pyramid and make better food choices. Aim to become part of the tiny percentage of the population that are vegetable-eating machines and say no to sugary, processed junk foods. Your life may depend on it.

What do you think of the new Healthy Eating Pyramid? Let us know in the comments below.