Balanced Diet Pyramid – Ideas to Select a Healthy Combination of Food

Just going to an organic store and buying anything will not work for nutrition if we are not filling our grocery carts with the right selections. The key to successful health is eating a balanced diet where we get the recommended amount of protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals. According to a food pyramid from Harvard University’s School of Public Health, exercise, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and fish should be the basis of any diet.

Harvard Healthy Eating Pyramid

Source: Harvard School of Public Health

So what exactly is a balanced diet? A balanced diet consists of the right types and amounts of foods and drinks to supply nutrition and energy for the body. A balanced diet pyramid simply helps you prioritize what food you need to eat more and what you need to eat in moderation. One of the best pyramids is from the Harvard University and its recommendations include exercising, focusing on quality of food vs calories, eating a plant-based diet, cutting back on American staples (red meat, processed meat, refined grains, potatoes and sugary drinks) and taking a multivitamin for insurance.

If you construct your daily meal by selecting items from the bottom and use the items on the top sparingly, you have done a good job in your food selection at a grocery store.

However, in our modern lifestyle, it seems that we are eating mostly food items that are on top of this pyramid and skipping the ones at the bottom. We eat lots of red meat, soda, refined white bread and cheese everywhere we go. We do not like vegetables and fruit, and most of us do not even know why whole grains are so important to our body. We falsely believe that it is okay to eat lots of cheese, white bread and buttery salty food as long as they are organic. On the other hand, our bodies are demanding phytonutrients from vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

Mayo Clinic has also come up with a good pyramid and it includes recommendations for the Asian diet, Latin American diet, and vegetarian diet as well. This sends a positive message that you do not necessarily have to follow a Western diet to eat healthy. In fact, several cultures have healthy dishes as well. Mayo clinic also includes daily physical activity as one of the important components of a healthy lifestyle.

USDA's MyPlate


The most well-known balanced diet pyramid is from USDA’s MyPlate.  The most recent revision is simple to understand and follow. The plate basically tells us that we need to make half our plate fruits and vegetables and the other half whole grains and protein. While the website recommends drinking less sugary drinks and more water, this message is not visible in the plate. So if you want to follow USDA’s MyPlate, it is a good idea to read the actual recommendations as well instead of completely relying on the picture. For instance, the picture mentions eating grains but does not tell you whether you need to eat whole grains or refined grains. (Whole grains are better for you.)

Overall, the key message in all these balanced diet pyramids is to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy protein. If you want a detailed recommendation, using the balanced diet pyramid from Harvard or Mayo Clinic is a better idea.

Now the next question is how you can select a healthy combination of food based on these pyramid’s recommendations. The pyramid’s recommendations are pretty broad and you can easily select a variety of food based on their guidelines. Incorporate a wide variety of vegetables and fruits into your diet by eating a salad or preparing vegetable soup. You can also eat vegetable curry with whole grains such as brown rice similar to Asian cuisines. If you choose to eat a salad, use healthy oil such as olive oil. Always make sure that your oil or butter is not hydrogenated and it does not include trans fat. Fish, poultry and eggs are excellent sources of protein and they can be combined with vegetables and rice. Finally, it is a good idea to cut back on sugar drinks, salty snacks, white bread, butter and processed meat.

Switching to a healthier lifestyle is easier than you think. Once you start choosing the items at the bottom of the pyramid (fruits, vegetables and whole grains), you will realize that your craving for unhealthy refined food (bread, sugary drinks, butter and salthy snacks) at the top of the pyramid diminishes slowly over a period of time. It may be difficult at first but later your body will start craving fruits and other healthy dishes instead of unhealthy options.

(The information in this article reflects the opinion of the writer and not the opinion of This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical or nutritional advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider or nutritionist to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation.) 

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