The optimal food pyramid

Professor David Russell and Charlotte Harbour offer practical guidelines for considering food and beverage provisions that can be easily understood

Food and nutrition can be an overwhelming, paradoxical and generally confusing sector. In our consulting role we regularly stay informed with the latest cutting-edge research, trends and thought leaders to ensure optimal alignment with our strategic output.

Our findings often demonstrate conflicting messages of wellbeing such as: meat is unhealthy, and then it’s a complete protein; coconut oil is a superfood, and then it clogs arteries; soy is great for hormones, and then it’s highly allergenic. It’s clear to see how confusion and frustration occurs, and even more so for our students who may not have the time or inclination to validate these claims and make informed judgements.

We’d like to clear up confusion and describe the Russell Partnership ‘optimal food pyramid’, which aims to cut through confusion and provide simple advice for students and staff alike. The ‘optimal food pyramid’ begins from the base, demonstrating the proportion of the diet that should be dedicated to a particular food type.

At the base of the pyramid is produce – non-starchy vegetables and low-sugar fruits. A focus on vegetables and fruits unequivocally contributes to positive health outcomes, providing an array of micronutrients, fibre, prebiotics and phytonutrients that are essential for basic bodily functions and overall wellbeing.

Above produce sits protein and fat, which share an equal portion of this section as both are equally important. Proteins consist of beans, legumes, nuts, eggs, seeds, meat and fish – all should be in their whole form, with minimal processing, and consumed alongside healthy fats. These fats consist of avocados, coconut and coconut oil, nuts, seeds, olives and olive oil, oily fish and eggs. Fats are essential for energy balance, brain health and joint care. Full fat dairy is recommended only in small amounts, as it has been shown to be highly allergenic and of little benefit biologically.

Professor David Russell

Next are starchy carbohydrates such as beetroot, cassava, parsnips, peas, potatoes, sweet potato and sweetcorn. Starchy vegetables are those with a relatively high amount of carbohydrate per unit weight. These are not included at the base as, although they are nutrient dense, the sugars they contain, if over consumed, create blood sugar imbalances. Alongside starchy carbohydrates sit wholegrains, such as oats, rye and rice. Although rich in prebiotics and fibre, grains can be a source of inflammation for some of the population. Within a meal, aim to consume either one source of starchy carbohydrates or one source of wholegrains.

At the top of the pyramid are refined sugars and processed foods. We understand that indulgence, socialisation experiences and convenience sometimes overrule the desire to eat a wholefoods-based meal. Therefore, these are included at the top as ‘occasion appropriate’ but are not recommended for regular consumption.

So, when considering food and beverage provisions within catered halls and campus outlets, the ‘optimal food pyramid’ delivers a practical guideline that can be easily adapted and understood by all.

For further info on The Russell Partnership, please click here.

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