Dave Shaw

Performance nutritionist, clinical dietitian and health expert, Dave does his best to make sense of what we eat.

Dave Shaw: Unraveling new healthy eating guide (the death of the food pyramid)

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The National Heart Foundation has come up with a new healthy eating guide, possibly spelling the end of the traditional healthy food pyramid. Health expert Dave Shaw deconstructs the new advice.

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The Ministry of Health has provided Kiwis with free dietary advice for decades.

Now, with over a third of New Zealanders overweight with a high risk of heart disease, the once ideal food pyramid is being questioned. It's a model based on promoting the consumption of breads and cereals. That theory is starting to crack under the increasing weight of evidence supporting lower carb diets.

Why it hasn't already changed is beyond me.

Change is good and required to keep up with the evolving science of nutrition.

No longer is fat evil or high carb diets associated with healthy living. Even the butter versus margarine debate has convincing evidence to argue for either side.

The old healthy food pyramid and the new guidelines.
Photo / Creative Commons, National Heart Foundation
The old healthy food pyramid and the new guidelines. Photo / Creative Commons, National Heart Foundation

The National Heart Foundation has gone to great lengths to tackle these barriers and recently released an updated version of their Healthy Heart Food Guide.

The new model is based on wholefoods. It doesn't try to dictate serving quantities, rather advises what portion of our diet should be make up of certain food groups.

Unraveling the new model:

Eat Most

Unsurprisingly, fruit and vegetables reign supreme and should be eaten most. What impresses me is that starchy veg like potatoes and kumara have been scratched from this group as they aren't interchangeable with the rest of the good stuff. The importance of eating from this group can't be pushed enough. These foods are lower in calories and provide additional anti-oxidants and fibre that healthy hearts require.

Eat Some

Next up it's recommended that we eat some breads, cereals and starchy vegetables. This is where debate gets heated. Eating high amounts of these, especially if they're refined or processed, will contribute to expanding waistlines and heart disease.

However, it's not a one size fits all model and a little bit of common sense is required. If you are overweight, have diabetes or at risk of heart disease, eating less of these foods is probably a good idea - but it's best to check with a dietitian if you're not sure.

Meat, chicken, fish, legumes and eggs slide just underneath. These foods pack a rich source of protein, fat-soluble vitamins and essential minerals. Plus, the protein helps you feel full so you'll eat less. What many would argue is that meat, chicken and fish should be promoted to second place. These foods cause a lower insulin response than carbs which may help control blood sugar levels and reduce a variety of risk factors for cardiovascular disease. But for now, meat should be viewed as more of a side dish rather than a main.

Near the bottom is milk and dairy - not much has changed here. Milk is a source of calcium and provides us with quality protein. But in a country that prides itself on milk production, I'm sure there will be a few people advocating we guzzle more.

Use Some

Bottom of the eating ladder are oils and nuts. A vague recommendation that could have more health benefits than people realise. What this new guide doesn't clarify is which oils or fats should be used. You need to dig a little deeper into their background guide. I don't think they've clarified confusion in this area.

Cut back on

And at the very bottom of the diagram, in teeny-tiny writing is advice to cut back on junk food, take-aways and foods or drinks high in sugar, salt or saturated and trans fats. What concerns me is that a lot of foods sneak under the umbrella of junk, without common knowledge, like muesli bars.

At the end of the day, this guide is an improvement, but its best to stay informed.

Dave Shaw is a New Zealand registered dietitian and nutritionist. Follow him on
Facebook and Twitter.

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