I had a birthday this past week, I won’t tell you how old I am but I’ll give you a clue. I had the USDA Food Pyramid ground into my brain at almost every level of school. I remember having to draw out the Food Pyramid for tests in health class, and looking at it on the back of my milk cartoon at lunch. Well, this week along with turning a year older the USDA decided to completely revamp everything I learned in health class.
After nearly two decades it’s time to say goodbye to the food pyramid. On Thursday June 2nd, First Lady Michelle Obama helped the U.S. Department of Agriculture unveil a new symbol – a plate. The plate is divided into four wedges to represent the basic food groups – fruits, vegetables, grains and protein. Next to the plate there is a cup representing the dairy group. This new symbol is intended to be family-friendly and easy to understand, urging parents to provide healthier, more balanced meals for their families. Since MyPlate® has been unveiled there has been a lot of talk about it. Is it better than the food pyramid? Will it help curb the obesity epidemic in the U.S.? Was it worth it to invest over 2 million dollars in order to change the graphic?
Like everyone else out there I have my opinion on the MyPlate® too. I can see some real pros to the change as well as a few cons. I figure since you will be seeing the symbol on the back of every box of cereal, and tons of other products that want to claim they “fit on the plate”, I might as well tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly about it.
First, the good stuff. The USDA’s MyPlate® clearly shows that half of your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables, and half of your grains should be whole grains. That’s great advice considering the fact that all fiber comes from fruits, vegetables, and grains. Americans typically only eat 12-15 grams of the recommended 25-30 grams of fiber per day. Less industrialized nations consume between 40 and 100 grams of fiber per day because the majority of their diet consists of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Another good change is that the USDA is now using the word “protein” instead of “meat”. Protein can be found in many other sources other than meat such as beans, grains, nuts, and dairy. Many Americans tend to assume that a meal is not a meal unless MEAT is center stage on the plate. As a whole Americans are “over-meated”, and so it’s a good thing to see that “protein” only takes up less than a quarter of the MyPlate®.
The USDA also specifies to drink more water and less sugary drinks within the new MyPlate® guidelines. I couldn’t agree with them more on this; in fact I would say to drink NO sugary drinks.
There are also a few problems I see with this new graphic. First, the size of plate is never specified. Plate sizes have grown right along with portion sizes over the past decades, and it would be safe to assume that eating the USDA suggested amounts on an oversized plate won’t solve the obesity problem in America or teach kids how to eat healthy. Remember those cute little plates your grandmother served food on? Ya, those are the plates you need to be using to follow the MyPlate® guidelines, not the platters your meal is served to you on at a restaurant. Those extra large plates hold enough for a family not just you alone.
Gripe #2 is that the “state” of the fruits and vegetables on your plate is not addressed. Eating half a plate full of fruits and veggies coated in oil, sugar, or some other syrup or sauce defeats the purpose of eating the fruits and veggies. Tip – when there are more calories in what coats a food than there are calories in the actual food it’s a good idea to ditch the spread/sauce/coating/dressing. Your fruits and vegetables should be as close to their natural state as possible. A few ideas of what NOT to have are canned fruits in heavy syrup, vegetables in cheese or cream, and salad drenched in dressing. An extra word of advice, consider it on the house; don’t you dare count French Fries or chips as your vegetable!
Another major problem I see is that a lot of food that is consumed is not on a plate. In fact I would dare to say that most of the food consumed in America skips the plate. Think of all the drive-thru meals, prepackaged frozen meal, snacks, candies, pops, beers, pizza, movie theater popcorn, nachos at the ball game, energy drinks, I could go on and on. The point is, the plate might not be very relevant for most people. Think about it, even school lunch is served on a tray not a plate. Does MyPlate® have a conversion for that?
Overall I would say that the USDA is taking a step in the right direction but this one symbol change is not going to undo our nations fast-food addiction, cure childhood obesity, or the fix the lack of physical activity.
So what should you do? Follow the MyPlate®? Scrap the whole thing and live on steak? Well, definitely don’t live on steak, but trying to follow the MyPlate® guidelines to a tee might prove to be impossible. I believe that everyone eats a little different based on their sense of taste, schedule, appetite, lifestyle, salary, and activity level. So following a one size fits all diet will not work. Each person has to figure out for themselves how to eat healthy. Take the time to learn a little bit about nutrition so that you know what is healthy and what isn’t and then tweak it to fit you.
I’ll even give you a head start. A few basics that everyone should know about nutrition are:
1. Whole grains are far better than refined grains. That means use whole wheat flour, eat brown rice, and limit your intake of cakes, pies, rolls, or other processed carbohydrates.
2. You can’t go wrong with plain fruits and vegetables. They are chock full of the vitamins and minerals your body needs, they are loaded with fiber, and they are low in calories.
3. Meat does not make a meal. Only 15 percent of your daily calories should come from protein so cut back on the meat, and learn to cook some meals without it.
4. The leaner the meat the better. Chicken, turkey, and fish are better choices than marbled steak. Buy lean ground meats and don’t add extra oil to cook them. Wild game is leaner than beef or pork with Antelope being the leanest.
5. You need fat in your diet; it just needs to be the right kind of fat. Animal fats such as butter, cream, egg yolks, or marbling in meat are loaded with cholesterol you don’t need – avoid these. The fats you do need are found in foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil. These foods are high in calories so don’t eat them in bulk, however in moderation they are just what your body needs.
6. Your body needs water. Pop, coffee, juice, or any other drink won’t take the place of the water your body needs. If you need to “jazz” up your water in order to drink it add lemon, cucumber, or mint leaves.
7. Low fat dairy is better than full fat dairy. Once again the fat in dairy products is loaded with cholesterol, bad fat. So switch to skim milk and avoid high fat cheeses and creams.
So, your assignment for this week to look up the MyPlate® guidelines as well as other nutrition information. Once you’ve done a little research decide on at least two changes you are going to make to your summer eating style in order to improve your current diet. Cheers! - my glass is full of vegetables!