As of Monday 20th May 2015, Australian’s have a new updated food pyramid on which to guide their food selection and consumption. Issued by Nutrition Australia; the nation’s peak community nutrition education body, it’s the first major update to the pyramid since 1999. The new pyramid is said to reflect the new Australian Dietary Guidelines that were issued in 20138.
As seen above, the first major change to note is that the pyramid now has five different major food groups compared with the three primary ones in the previous edition. This is intended to provid clearer information about the quantity that each food group is meant to contribute to a balanced diet. The other little addition is the small triangle of ‘healthy fats’ at the top, which relate to essential fatty acids and healthy vegetable oils such as olive oil.
As far as changes in the ranking of food groups are concerned, the major change involves the promotion of vegetables as the most consumed food group, in place of cereals and grains, which have been moved from the bottom to the middle section of the new five-part food pyramid. Interestingly, beans and legumes come under the umbrella of vegetables despite their relatively higher carbohydrate level compared with common salads and green veggies.
The downward revision of dietary intake of bread and cereal is in line with recent data from the 2014 Australian Grains & Legumes Consumption & Attitudinal Study showing that the average daily serves of grain foods dropped by almost one third between 2011 and 20147.
Limiting added sugar and overall sugar intake was a specific recommendation of the 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines8, which has been reflected in the new Food Pyramid. A red cross in the top left corner denotes that added sugar is a big no-no. Interestingly, however, salt is in the same box, which is in contrast with the latest advice from the United States Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (USAND); the largest association of food and nutrition professionals in the United States.
In their latest critique of the impending 2015 American dietary guidelines, the USAND argues there is a lack of scientific evidence to support a single sodium consumption range recommendation for all Americans. They site research showing that the low sodium intake levels recommended by the pending ‘Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’ (DGAC) are actually associated with increased mortality for healthy individuals. While the USAND argue there is an ongoing need for a subset of the population to abide by the existing low sodium recommendation, they also cite evidence that current ranges for sodium intake have the potential to cause more harm than good1.
Likewise, intake of saturated fat is still recommended to be kept to a minimum in the latest food pyramid. This is despite the recognition that popular lipoprotein biomarkers such as LDL and HDL do not serve as accurate predictors of the impact of diet on the risk of heart disease2. As with salt, the USAND has recommended that the DGAC consider removing the focus on the possible link between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease risk, given the lack of association3-6 born out in numerous recent meta-analyses.
The updated guidelines have largely been met with a positive response from industry figures, policy makers and key opinion leaders. While there are always areas within food policy and legislation that lend themselves to debate and critique, the overall consensus is that the new food pyramid serves as a positive step in the right direction.
1. Eat Right Pro Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2015. Academy Comments re The DGAC Scientific Report. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.eatrightpro.org/resource/advocacy/take-action/regulatory-comments/dgac-scientific-report. [Accessed 19 May 15].
2. IOM (Institute of Medicine). 2010. Evaluation of biomarkers and surrogate endpoints in chronic disease. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
3. Skeaff CM, Miller J. Dietary fat and coronary heart disease: summary of evidence from prospective cohort and randomised controlled trials. Ann Nutr Metab. 2009;55(1-3):173-201.
4. Siri-Tarino P, Sun Q, Hu F, Krauss R. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition. 2010;91(3):535-546.
5. Chowdhury R, Warnakula S, Kunutsor S, Crowe 1277 F, Ward HA, Johnson L, et al. Association of dietary, circulating, and supplement fatty acids with coronary risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2014;160(6):398-406.
6. Mente A, de Koning L, Shannon H, Anand S. A systematic review of the evidence supporting a causal link between dietary factors and coronary heart disease. Archives Of Internal Medicine. 2009;169(7):659-669.
7. Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council. 2015. Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.glnc.org.au/. [Accessed 19 May 15].
8. Australian Dietary Guidelines (2013). 2015. Australian Dietary Guidelines (2013) | National Health & Medical Research Council. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/n55. [Accessed 19 May 15].