New Healing Foods Pyramid

We’ve just been looking over the new health foods pyramid created by researchers at the University of Michigan. The pyramid is a triangle composed of 10 tiers. It is based on the idea that foods have the power to fight illnesses and ailments including chronic pain, heart trouble, and cancer. In brief, the pyramid advances the idea that we should all consume less meat and more plant products and we should enjoy a variety of foods that put an emphasis on healthy fats.

The base of the pyramid, and therefore the key to healthy living, is water because our bodies are more than 50 percent water. The five tiers or layers above water are to be eaten daily. These include fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, seasonings, and healthy fats such as olive oil, eggs, and dairy products. The next two tiers or layers represent food choices that are to be consumed weekly. These are fish and seafood and lean meats. The ninth tier of the pyramid is called accompaniments, which includes tea, dark chocolate, and alcohol—all to be used in moderation. The top tier is blank, to be filled in by the user with a favorite treat, but in moderation.

This new tool was developed by Monica Myklebust, MD, and Jenna Wunder, MPH, RD. Myklebust is the director of the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine Clinical Services. She believes that by combining the philosophies and practices of several healing systems, that people struggling with medical challenges will have options to pursue wellness and healing. Dr. Myklebust completed a residential fellowship at the University of Arizona in Integrative Medicine in 2002 and a residency at the May Graduate School of Medicine in 1996. She received her medical degree from the Minnesota School of Medicine in 1993.

Q: Is the Healing Foods Pyramid the same as the USDA Food Guide Pyramid?
A: No. The USDA’s guidelines, published in 2004, are not the same as the Healing Foods Pyramid. They both use a pyramid to emphasize food choices and options but the selections are different.

Q: Does Dr. Myklebust have any eating tips?
A: Yes.
(1) Eat two to four servings of fruit and five or more servings of vegetables daily. A serving is a half-cup.
(2) At mealtime, half the plate should be fruits and vegetables leaving a quarter of the plate for protein including meat, fish, chicken, nuts, beans, eggs, cheese, or yogurt and another quarter for whole grains such as whole wheat pasta or brown rice.
(3) When selecting fruits and vegetables, select one of every color because each color represents different nutrients. The basic colors are white, yellow, orange, red, and purple.

Q: Anything else important about the pyramid?
A: As consumers move from the bottom of the pyramid to the top, they should understand that the triangle shape is in proportion to the amount and importance of foods found on the pyramid. For example, Tier 1 is water, so plenty of water is necessary to good health. Tier 8 is lean meats so fewer of them should be part of a healthy diet. The grains category contains corn, squash, and sweet potatoes, which are vegetables but these vegetables act like grains in the body. In general, says Dr. Myklebust, the Healing Foods Pyramid derives its name from the belief that there are healing properties in food. “Food is medicine,” she says.

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