What’s on your plate?

Your plate

18 October 2011

In June 2011 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) came up with “MyPlate”, a dietary guidance symbol that is meant to update the “food pyramid” as a way of thinking about daily food intake. The main message of MyPlate is that at least half of each plate of a meal should consist of fruit and vegetables. Now Harvard researchers have released what they are calling a “Healthy Eating Plate” which they say is more sound, and less influenced, than the government version.

What MyPlate leaves out, but what the Harvard version includes, is detailed but vital information. The Harvard plate tells you that wholegrains are better for you than refined grains. It also makes the distinction between different quality proteins saying that proteins from fish, poultry, beans, and nuts are better than those from red and processed meats.

The Harvard plate also points out that you don’t have to eat dairy at every meal and that there is little evidence that high dairy intake protects against osteoporosis while much more evidence points to too much dairy causing health problems.

Harvard have also made distinctions between healthy and unhealthy fats as well as pointing out that potatoes are different to other vegetables because of their high glycaemic index.

Both the MyPlate and Harvard plates are divided into four sections with fruit and vegetables occupying half with grains and protein taking up the other half. The Harvard plate however, adds the words “whole” grains and “healthy” protein. Where MyPlate has the a small circle with the word “dairy” next to the plate, the Harvard plate has a glass of water and a jar of “healthy oils”.

The Harvard plate also adds an icon of a person running with the message “stay active”. Harvard also make the specific recommendation of eating a “rainbow” of fruits every day as different coloured fruits provide different nutrients. As far as protein goes the Harvard plate advises against too much red meat and advocates avoiding bacon and processed meats as regular small amounts of these meats increase risk of diabetes, colon cancer, and heart disease.

Where MyPlate advocates a glass of milk with meals the Harvard plate advises no more than one or two servings of milk or dairy per day. It suggests water, or coffee or tea with no sugar added, limit juice to one glass a day, and consume no soft drinks at all. Harvard also advises using healthy oils like olive oil, limiting butter, and having no trans fats.

You can see that there are quite a few differences between the two approaches; almost the only thing really in complete agreement is the plate. The question is why should this be so? Has the government department just been lazy or is it setting impossibly high standards for evidence? According to the Harvard researchers the MyPlate is based on a mix of science and lobbying from powerful agricultural interests.

The moral of the story: do your own research and don’t believe what you read…except here of course.


Healthy Eating Plate

Healthy Eating Plate

The new Healthy Eating Plate was created by Harvard Health Publications and nutrition experts at the Harvard School of Public Health. It offers more specific and more accurate recommendations for following a healthy diet than MyPlate, developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Service. In addition, the Healthy Eating Plate is based on the most up-to-date nutrition research, and it is not influenced by the food industry or agriculture policy.




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