I wouldn’t be much of a Nutritional Therapist if I didn’t weigh in about the new “My Plate” approach from the United States Department of Agriculture. I know, I’ve given my thoughts before about the USDA recommendations and not much has changed with the newest guidelines, but there is progress to be heralded. Check it out at www.choosemyplate.gov.
A quick history lesson. The USDA started providing food guidelines for Americans in 1916 with “How to Select Food”. It was changed to the basic seven food groups in the 1940s. There were three other designs until the one most people remember, the Pyramid, in 1992. Grains were the “base”, followed by a smaller but equal division of vegetables and fruits, topped by a smaller but equal division of dairy and meats, topped by a tiny triangle of fats, oils, and sweets. I think the “base” of bread, potatoes, and pasta with no discussion regarding whole grains versus refined, and increasingly genetically modified wheat sources has helped lead to America’s expanding waistlines. In 2005 the updated pyramid was introduced that used colored wedges the length of the pyramid and steps on the side to suggest physical activity. This change, I feel was a bit difficult to explain. People got stuck on the sizes of the wedges and no one really understood the tapering at the top (including me, honestly).
So, here we are in 2011 with the new My Plate which is divided into four sections – fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains) and a small round finger bowl (I guess?) – dairy. What I like is it’s easier to understand than the pyramid. You can take your plate and actually divide it accordingly. Although I’m not a big fan of the large portion of grains as well as fruit and dairy at every meal. But, the familiar visual is good. Maybe it will help people be reminded to make healthier choices.
I would still like to see a distinction between fruits and vegetables. Although both, as nutrient-dense whole foods are wonderful, fruit really needs to be in greater moderation than vegetables. A half of plate of veggies with the finger bowl of fruit would be okay.
I do not like the suggestion to use fat-free of low-fat dairy products. Vitamins A, E, D, & K are fat soluble and need fat in order to be absorbed. Plus, many of these processed foods contain a large amount of fillers, additives, colorings, and sweeteners to compensate for the loss of flavor without the fat. Fat creates satiety so if you can enjoy dairy, use the real stuff, your body will know what to do with the nutrients and you won’t need as much to feel full.
It says to make at least 1/2 your grains whole. I guess this might be a start for someone who is currently ingesting mostly refined grains, but I would prefer to see the recommendation as all whole grains, if you’re going to eat grains. There really isn’t room for refined grains in a healthy diet. It’s pretty clear that the more refined grains and sugars we’ve added into our diets the more chronic disease we’ve encountered. Plus, more and more people are dealing with digestive issues from grains, including whole grains. On the plate, a smaller portion would be fine by me.
Not to mention that people are still completely confused by the words “whole grains”. Whole wheat bread isn’t necessarily a whole grain bread. I’ll add this clarification in another post, but suffice it to say right now that it’s best to make your own or very carefully read labels.
Next, the USDA suggests comparing sodium on labels such as soups, breads, and frozen meals. Unfortunately this continues the assumption that processed foods are healthy. Few really are! Sodium is just one of the many additives in processed foods to make them taste better and be more shelf stable. There is also partially or fully hydrogenated oils (trans fats), high-fructose corn syrup and corn syrup, artificial non-sugar sweeteners, soy, gluten, etc.
I love the final recommendation – drink water instead of sugary drinks. Although I’d add artificial soda pops, as well as moderate amounts of juice, alcohol, coffee, and tea to the “try to limit” list. All these diuretics are damaging to our health if we don’t stay fully hydrated. Water is the greatest nutrient we can give ourselves.
Look back to my April 20, 2011 blog “Who Do We Trust When It’s Called ‘Healthy'” for further rants and raves about the overall USDA and their guidelines.
But, as a new redirection for Americans and our eating behaviors, “My Plate” is a good step. It’s clear and easy to follow. I think most people understand that overweight and obesity are epidemic in America – more than 60% currently, and we have to make changes, portioning out a nine-inch plate is a good start.