Just a few short months after the U.S.Department of Agriculture unveiled its new food guide MyPlate, nutrition experts at Harvard’s School of Public Health and Harvard Health Publications released their own guide, Healthy Eating Plate.
While MyPlate shows the relative portions of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy a person should eat, it says nothing about the quality of those foods. Experts agree that MyPlate is a significant improvement from the Food Guide Pyramid, introduced in 1992, but the Harvard nutrition experts say it still does not provide enough of the guidance consumers need. They think the Healthy Eating Plate, on the other hand, focuses on the types and quality of food consumers should choose to ensure a healthy diet because, as many people know, quality matters.
The central message of the Healthy Eating Plate is to get plenty of produce, choose whole grains, choose healthy sources of protein, use healthy oils, and drink water or other beverages that don’t contain sugar.
Harvard Health Publications points out that, “a hamburger or hot dog on a white bread bun with French fries and a milk shake could be part of a MyPlate meal – even though high red and processed meat intakes increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer, and high intakes of refined grains and potatoes make it hard to control weight.”
Unlike MyPlate, the vegetable portion of the Healthy Eating Plate is at the top of the plate and increased in size to show that a variety of vegetables should make up a significant portion of the meal. On the Healthy Eating Plate, potatoes and French fries don’t count as vegetables (likely neither does ketchup – sorry, President Reagan). The Healthy Eating Plate also contains two additional recommendations that MyPlate does not: use healthy oils in cooking and at the table instead of butter and trans fats, and a reminder to stay active.
P.J. Skerrett, editor of Harvard Heart Letter, summed up the recommendations of the Healthy Eating Plate:
– Make half your meal vegetables and fruits. Go for variety. And keep in mind that potatoes and French fries don’t count.
– Choose whole grains whenever you can. Limit refined grains, like white rice and white bread, because the body rapidly turns them into blood sugar.
– Pick the healthiest sources of protein, such as fish, poultry, beans, and nuts; cut back on red meat; avoid bacon, cold cuts, and other processed meats.
– Healthy oils (like olive and canola oil) are good for you. Don’t be afraid to use them for cooking, on salad, and at the table.
– Drink water, tea, or coffee. Milk and dairy are not must-have foods – limit them to 1-2 servings/day. Go easy on juice. Avoid sugary drinks.
– And stay active!
The Healthy Eating Plate offers a more complete, yet still simple, picture to guide consumers through the sometimes-overwhelming process of choosing healthy foods for their families. Dr. Anthony Komaroff, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Editor in Chief of Harvard Health Publications says, “We gave MyPlate a makeover to provide consumers with an easy to use but specific guide to healthy eating based on the best science available.”
The Healthy Eating Plate has a lot going in its favor: simple graphic; simple and clear suggestions for making food choices; a reminder to stay active. And as if that wasn’t enough, the folks at Harvard can boast that “the Healthy Eating Plate is based on nutritional science and is not influenced even a smidgeon by commercial pressure.” Given the strength of the food industry, agricultural interests, and other political players, that is definitely something to brag about.
Alli Condra is pursuing her LL.M. in Agricultural and Food Law at the University of Arkansas. She was chosen as the 2011-12 recipient of the Marler Clark Graduate Assistantship.