Ah, the 90’s. The era that gifted us Britney Spears, Beanie babies, and the Macarena. This totally bangin’ decade also introduced us to the importance of nutrition, presented by a colorful cornucopia called the food guide pyramid. But just Bill Nye the Science Guy would probably agree, human nutrition is an ever-evolving field. This is why we’ve created our own up-to-date version of a nutrition prioritization pyramid -- Lifesum style.
In the 1990’s, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food guide pyramid promoted white bread, pasta, and crackers at the base, intending to be the bulk of what we eat. Since then, we’ve discovered that not all carbs are created equal.
The food guide pyramid got two facelifts, in 2005 and 2011. The most recent being MyPyramid, which focuses more on fruits, vegetables, and includes physical activity (1). Excellent steps in the right direction!
A food guide pyramid focuses on including a variety of food groups: grains, protein, vegetables, fruits, dairy, in order to get all the necessary nutrients. In comparison, a nutrition prioritization pyramid emphasizes the aspects of foods and fluids that our bodies require in order to be healthy: hydration, calories, macros, micros, meal-timing.
We created our own nutrition prioritization pyramid featuring the foundations of good nutrition. Keep in mind that even though it’s based on the level of importance, all aspects of the pyramid are crucial.
Drinking enough water on a daily basis is essential for survival. Every cell, tissue, and organ in your body requires water to function. It also helps remove waste from the body, a normal part of metabolism.
The amount of water you should drink depends on height, mass, sex, and age. Then on the intensity and length of your workout and what type of climate you’re doing it in.
The general recommendation for water intake is about nine cups per day (2.2 liters) for women and 13 cups (3 liters) per day for men (2). Keep in mind that fluid needs increase in hot environments and when doing fitness or race training.
Calories are basically the energy we get from food. Our body requires calories in order to function (breathing, heart rate, organ and cell processes) as well as daily movement (daily activities, workouts, even digesting food).
Calorie balance when we intake the same, or close to, the number of calories that we’re burning each day. In general, eating more calories than are burned will create weight gain. Burning more calories than are consumed will promote weight loss.
This calories in, calories out equation varies depending on many factors such as gender, activity level, age, and height. The Lifesum app takes this specific and personalized information and will determine your individual calorie needs based on your specific goals.
Macronutrients provide our body with energy in the form of calories. These are nutrients that are needed from the diet in large amounts. They include carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
Carbohydrates are the primary fuel by the brain and muscles. Carbohydrate needs may increase during certain types of exercise like running.
There are different types of carbs. Simple carbs are digested quickly and provide quick energy (bananas, white rice, raisins, juice) while complex carbs offer longer-lasting energy and are good for gut health (whole grain bread, beans, lentils, oats, brown rice).
Protein is fundamental for growth and repair of the body and cells as well as maintaining good health (3). Protein comes from animal sources (meat, fish, eggs, dairy) and vegetarian sources (soy, hemp, beans, lentils).
Fats are classified as saturated (butter, coconut oil, cheese, red meat), monounsaturated (nuts, avocado, olives and oil, seeds), and polyunsaturated (fish, flax seed, walnuts). Most trans fat (fast-food, coffee creamer, some margarines and baked goods) are man made and can have adverse effects on health (3).
It's best to focus on more of the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats while limiting the saturated and trans fats. This can help lower the “bad” cholesterol levels and improve heart health (3).
Macronutrient requirements can vary according to preference and goals. Lifesum will provide a recommendation and macros can also be adjusted in the app.
Micronutrients are needed in lesser amounts than macronutrients but are still essential for wellbeing. Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals.
Vitamins help with energy and metabolism, immunity, and health skin and vision (4). Fat soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E, K) are absorbed more easily by the body with the company of dietary fats. Foods rich in fat soluble vitamins include eggs, dairy, fatty fish, carrots, dark leafy and green vegetables.
Water soluble vitamins are not stored in the body so need to be obtained by food on a regular basis. They include vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, biotin, and pantothenic acid. These can be found in foods such as dark leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, and whole grain products.
Minerals are needed for body development, function, and good health. They help with bone health and heart, brain, and muscle function. They also help create enzymes and hormones (5). Some examples include iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, and selenium. These are found in meat, fish, dairy foods, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables.
Meal timing is helpful for overall well-being, energy levels, and fitness goals. Planning ahead will help get the most out of a workout and keep energy high all day. Some research shows that eating at specific times can help regulate the body’s natural biological clock and improve health (6).
Meal timing is even more important when it comes to building muscle. This is because it helps provide energy and helps with rebuilding of muscles and replenishing of energy stores.
Nutrition needs can vary depending on goals and diet preferences such as a more plant-based way of eating. The ticket is to focus on a balanced diet with adequate fluids and calories. A wide variety of foods will encourage macros, vitamins, and minerals for optimal energy and function.
Focus on the basics of the nutrition prioritization pyramid along with activity, sleep, and stress reduction, and you’re on your way to reaching peak health.
What’s one thing in your life you can change today, to help you climb to the top of your pyramid?
All of the content and media on Lifesum is created and published for information purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Users should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice. If you have or think you are at risk of developing an eating disorder, do not use the Lifesum app and seek immediate medical help.