Skip to content

The Food Cube (as the new Food Pyramid)

13 December, 2010

This is an infographic I designed participating in a project initiated by GOOD; an American media platform about anything that could improve well-being and quality of life on the planet.

A 3-D representation of the Food Cube

Click on the image to enlarge it

The aim of the project was to develop a new illustrated food guide; an update of the American Food Guide Pyramid according to the federal government updates (2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans).

As I think (just a thought!) that the route for an ideal diet depends on many factors (e.g. Location) I would like to stress that this is an infographic for and about people who live in the U.S. Still, one other, perhaps the most important, factor is every individual’s unique conditions and needs. So, although I tried to be inclusive, if you have an allergy for example, the whole food cube should change from slightly to dramatically depending exactly on your unique conditions and needs. As a conclusion, use the cube on your own risk, and better seek advice from your doctor, nutritionist and study more on the subject to be on the safe side.

Having said that, many suggestions on the cube could be useful no matter where you live.

The DGAC (Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee) suggested guidelines are (rightly) not limited only to What to Eat but also to other aspects of a holistic approach to nutrition and healthy living like How Much to Eat, How Much Alcohol to Drink, How Much to Exercise etc. To layout all this on a single surface would make things rather complicated. That’s how the idea of the cube was born.

Net of the Food Cube (with its sides presenting aspects of suggested eating habits)

Click on the image to enlarge it

On each of its six sides a single aspect of nutrition is explored.

From left to right the first side (a) refers to ‘How Much to Eat’, the next one (b) to ‘What to Eat’, then there are some ideas on ‘How to Eat & How to Live!’ (c) and on the far right side (d) some ‘Ethical/Ecological Issues’ are mentioned.

Above side (b) there is a side that examines ‘Physical activities’ and below side (b) there is a side with ‘Alcohol Consumption’ guidelines.

Infographic showing guidelines (in the form of a flowchart) on how much to eat

Click on the image to enlarge it

(a) How Much to Eat
With obesity being a rather big issue in the States, a whole side is dedicated to How Much to Eat. This comes in the form of a flowchart. In a few words it says that if you are overweight or obese your total energy intake (food) should be less than your total energy output (exercise/physical activity). Even more simple/simplistic? Eat less – Exercise more!

It also depicts some examples: an intake of a glass of coke (or 376g of it) means that someone has to jog for more than 15 minutes in order to ‘burn’ it (if his weight meets the weight of the average American male (191lb); if he is lighter he has to jog even more time!) Drinking water instead and there will be nothing to ‘burn’ so no additional exercise.

An infographic showing foods that you should eat more and foods that you should avoid.

Click on the image to enlarge it

(b) What to Eat – What to Avoid
The guidelines suggest more vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, high-fibre whole grains, low-fat dairy products and seafood. Eat eggs and other animal products in moderation and avoid/reduce SoFAS (added sugars and solid fats) and sodium (found in salt).

A few suggestions (text) on how to eat and how to live! ( a healthier life)

Click the image to enlarge it

(c) How to Eat – How to Live!
This side contains a series of bullet points related to suggestions/ideas on how to eat (not all of them come from the DGAC) and how to live!

An infographic (table) about how to eat more ethically/ecologically

Click the image to enlarge it

(d) Ethical/Ecological Issues
Most of the ideas/suggestions depicted on this side are not coming from the DGAC. In fact a couple of them could be my personal ‘invention’; I hope a good one. Apart from the well-being of animals, no use of chemicals (Organic Food) and well-being of people (Fair Trade) there are hints about carbon footprint (Food miles), recycling (Packaging) and the ‘life’ of foods after buying them (Conservation – Cooking – Waste). For the last five issues there is a comparison of bananas coming from thousands of miles away (depending on where you live) to locally produced potatoes. I understand that the two foods compared are very different so it looks like an unjustified comparison (comparing too different things). The purpose though is to emphasise the gamut (spectrum) of the previously mentioned issues.

So the closest a food is produced to you, the better (less energy to transport it, quicker to reach you thus fresher and it could be of lower cost). If you could have your own bag and buy loose products you get extra ‘points’! Sadly, at least in England, buying loose could be more expensive than buying a pack; I guess it is because in the latter case chances are that you buy more! Then think how you are going to preserve your foods until you eat or cook them. Something in a can for example does not have demanding storage requirements. Many fruits and vegetables though do. This, doesn’t mean (by any means), that I suggest you to buy canned foods instead of fresh! I simply suggest to have this issue in mind. Potatoes (in some climates & conditions) could be left in a paper box for a long time and keep all their freshness. Bananas and carrots are more delicate and you normally need to put them in the fridge (which by the way means spending energy).

Adding to ‘energy costs’ is cooking. Prefer to eat raw (most raw fruits and many raw vegetables are edible); not only you limit the carbon footprint and the time you spend but you also (in many cases) get more of the nutrients the food originally had. There are some, important for a healthy eating balance, foods though that you need to cook in order to eat them (e.g. legumes). Prefer the cooking methods that will preserve most of the food’s nutrients and at the same time try to think the most energy-efficient ways to do so. Finally, if you don’t have the means or the will to recycle organic waste, think of the byproducts/waste of each food you consume. The skin makes up 1/3 of a banana’s weight so how much you actually buy is not exactly how much you actually eat, while if you cook your potatoes as jacket they practically leave you with no waste at all (plus that the potato skin has some useful nutrients); don’t forget to wash them thoroughly though.

Infographic showing guidelines (in the form of a flowchart) on how much physical activity to do (per week)

Click the image to enlarge it

(b+) Physical Activity Guidelines (per week)
This side does not refer to food but to physical activity. The suggestions (again in the form of a flowchart) come from the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Very simplistically, if you are up to 18 aim for at least 7 sessions a week of at least one-hour duration each (moderate intensity). If you are an adult go for at least 2.5 hours moderate-intensity or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise a week. Double the amount of time for additional health benefits. Of course if you have chronic conditions ask advice from your doctor/physician.

Infographic showing guidelines (in the form of a flowchart) on how much alcohol to consume (per day)

Click on the image to enlarge it

(b-) Suggested Alcohol Consumption (per week)
This side does not refer to food neither but to the consumption of alcohol. One more flowchart for you! If you are less than 18 years old avoid drinking alcohol completely. For 18 and above (according to DGAC) some alcohol a day (e.g. up to 10 ounces of wine if you are a man) could be even beneficial for your health (but this again has to be examined in relation to your overall health status). Drink more than 25 ounces (of wine, still if you are a man) on a single day and you do yourself harm. ‘A number of situations and conditions call for the complete avoidance of alcoholic beverages‘ says the report.

So that’s how the idea of the cube works. Although in its totality nutrition and healthy living looks like a complicated issue (and I guess it is) if you focus on one aspect (side) at a time, integrate it in your daily habits and continue from there, things could be easier and hopefully healthier and better.

If you have reached this point perhaps you find the idea of the cube interesting so here is a little reward for you: a PDF (printer-friendly) version of the cube so that you can try how the cube works in a more tangible way.

On a personal note, I would like to communicate that I do not necessarily endorse in all its aspects the DGAC (Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee) suggestions. However, for this infographic I have followed most of their suggestions in order to create something compatible with them. I have also added some personal ideas for a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

Finally, if you would like to see some other proposals for GOOD’s project please visit GOOD’s website.

Good Project: Design a Better Food Pyramid
DGAC Dietary Guidelines for Americans
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Nutrition facts, calories in food, labels, nutritional information and analysis Free Calorie Counter, Weight Loss Calculators, and Weight Loss Tutorials
Burger King® BURGER KING® – Cheeseburger – Nutritional information
Fair Trade USA Fair Trade USA
Agricultural Marketing Service Agricultural Marketing Service – The Organic Seal

Many thanks to Adela Pickles, Matthew Hough, Tony Primentas, The Peppermint Family (specially Olga Primenta), Dinos Konstantinou and Kalliopi Vgontza for their invaluable feedback (through user testing), ideas, suggestions and support during the design process.

If you found this post interesting, why not have a look at other related posts:
Potatoes in the UK
Carrots in the UK
Know your onions: an infograph
Alcohol-related deaths in England

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: