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MEGAN MONDAY: What’s the Best Food Guide to Follow?

on November 4, 2013

Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach.

You and/or your child may or may not have seen the updated “MyPlate” version of the USDA food pyramid, delineating portions of recommended food groups to eat on a daily basis. While the “MyPlate” rendition is a huge improvement from the former USDA’s Food Pyramid, it still has major flaws and is heavily influenced by the food industry groups (i.e. dairy, beef, chicken, grain, etc. industries) that heavily “contribute”/fund USDA programs, such as the food guide. How convenient that the same industries that contribute funding to the USDA are made dietary “recommendations” by the U.S. Government. While I applaud recent efforts to improve the antiquated version of the food pyramid, I still strongly caution anyone I can about the concerns focused around the “MyPlate” recommendations.
Rather, I feel there is a better alternative, especially one to use to teach children a healthy and balanced way to eat. When studying nutrition, several of my course studies challenged some of the components of the “MyPlate” and USDA daily recommendations. For instance, what do people who are allergic to dairy do with the distinct dairy portion of the MyPlate? How relevant is the large “grains” portion to someone who really needs to watch carbohydrates or has gluten intolerance or sensitivities (not that all grains are gluten)? And where is the water portion? For something that is considered an essential element to survive (and free), I find it odd that it doesn’t exist anywhere on the MyPlate diagram. With how much we’re supposed to “balance” our meals, I find the MyPlate rather misleading and not the best representation of how to square our diets off.
One of the best models I found is Harvard’s “Healthy Eating Plate”, which was designed void of any lobbyist influence, in addition to covering a healthier balance of the most nutrient-dense foods. The Healthy Eating Plate’s website sums up the difference of the two food guides perfectly (SOURCE: Harvard University’s School of Public Health website):

healthy eating plate

myplate

The Healthy Eating Plate, created by experts at Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, points consumers to the healthiest choices in the major food groups. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate, in contrast, fails to give people some of the basic nutrition advice they need to choose a healthy diet. The Healthy Eating Plate is based exclusively on the best available science and was not subjected to political and commercial pressures from food industry lobbyists.

Whole Grains Grains
The Healthy Eating Plate encourages consumers to choose whole grains and limit refined grains, since whole grains are much better for health. In the body, refined grains like white bread and white rice act just like sugar. Over time, eating too much of these refined-grain foods can make it harder to control weight and can raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes. MyPlate does not tell consumers that whole grains are better for health.
Healthy Protein Protein
The Healthy Eating Plate encourages consumers to choose fish, poultry, beans or nuts, protein sources that contain other healthful nutrients. It encourages them to limit red meat and avoid processed meat, since eating even small quantities of these foods on a regular basis raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, and weight gain. MyPlate’s protein section could be filled by a hamburger or hot dog; it offers no indication that some high-protein foods are healthier than others, or that red and processed meat are especially harmful to health.
Vegetables Vegetables
The Healthy Eating Plate encourages an abundant variety of vegetables, since Americans are particularly deficient in their vegetable consumption—except for potatoes and French fries. Potatoes are chock full of rapidly digested starch, and they have the same effect on blood sugar as refined grains and sweets, so limited consumption is recommended. MyPlate does not distinguish between potatoes and other vegetables.
Fruits Fruits
The Healthy Eating Plate recommends eating a colorful variety of fruits. MyPlate also recommends eating fruits.
Healthy Oils (Not included in MyPlate)
The Healthy Eating Plate depicts a bottle of healthy oil, and it encourages consumers to use olive, canola, and other plant oils in cooking, on salads, and at the table. These healthy fats reduce harmful cholesterol and are good for the heart, and Americans don’t consume enough of them each day. It also recommends limiting butter and avoiding trans fat. MyPlate is silent on fat, which could steer consumers toward the type of low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet that makes it harder to control weight and worsens blood cholesterol profiles.
Water Dairy
The Healthy Eating Plate encourages consumers to drink water, since it’s naturally calorie free, or to try coffee and tea (with little or no sugar), which are also great calorie-free alternatives. It advises consumers to avoid sugary drinks, since these are major contributors to the obesity and diabetes epidemics. It recommends limiting milk and dairy to one to two servings per day, since high intakes are associated with increased risk of prostate cancer and possibly ovarian cancer; it recommends limiting juice, even 100% fruit juice, to just a small glass a day, because juice contains as much sugar and as many calories as sugary soda. MyPlate recommends dairy at every meal, even though there is little if any evidence that high dairy intakes protect against osteoporosis, and there is considerable evidence that too-high intakes can be harmful. MyPlate says nothing about sugary drinks or juice.
Stay Active (Not included in MyPlate)
The figure scampering across the bottom of the Healthy Eating Plate’s placemat is a reminder that staying active is half of the secret to weight control. The other half is eating a healthy diet with modest portions that meet your calorie needs. There is no activity message on MyPlate.

As one can see, the Healthy Eating Plate offers a more balanced, realistic approach to how we really should be eating, no matter if we are vegan, meat lovers, gluten sensitive, etc.
Follow the links below for more resources on the Healthy Eating Plate and how you can use it to help educate your children. Also keep in mind that since the USDA (government-run) version of the MyPlate will be the version most taught in public schools (government-run), be an activist and ask to have the Healthy Eating Plate offered in addition to (if not replacing, if possible), the USDA version. Spread the word to other parents and families, too!
http://www.health.harvard.edu/plate/healthy-eating-plate
http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/
http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/pyramid/
http://www.dlife.com/diabetes-food-and-fitness/what_do_i_eat/the_dlife_healthy_eating_plate
Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching. Megan educates and empowers women, men, and children of all ages to learn the true ins-and-outs of “feeding the brain with knowledge about the best foods and habits for one’s body” in order to reach optimal health and wellness potentials. Visit her website today to learn more: http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us or feel free to send her an e-mail at: megan@empowerhealthcoach.com.


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