The Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Health Publications have revealed the Healthy Eating Plate, an improved version of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) recently-released MyPlate food icon.
Like MyPlate, the Healthy Eating Plate provides nutritional guidance in the form of an easy-to-understand graphic, dividing a meal plate into essential food groups to help people make better and healthier food choices.
The Healthy Eating Plate addresses deficiencies in MyPlate by being more specific about what foods are healthy. Compared to Harvard’s version, the USDA’s MyPlate is oversimplified, allowing room for consumers to make unhealthy choices with refined grains, processed and fatty meats, high-carbohydrate vegetables, and excessive dairy consumption, despite evidence that shows it can be detrimental to health. It also neglects to include healthy oils and, perhaps even more importantly, says nothing about physical activity.
Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate includes:
Vegetables: A wide variety of types is recommended. Potatoes should be consumed in limited amounts because they are high in simple carbohydrates which raise blood sugar and make you hungrier faster. Excessive consumption can lead to weight gain, type-II diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic health problems.
Fruits: A wide variety of fruits in various colors – a “rainbow” – is recommended in order to maximize consumption of vitamins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.
Whole Grains: Whole grains that contain all the naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain are best. Whole, cracked, and sprouted wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, brown or wild rice, and oatmeal are better than their refined counterparts (white bread, white rice) which affect your body much like sugar. Too many refined grains in the diet can raise the risk of heart disease and type-II diabetes.
Healthy Proteins: Lean sources of protein such as fish and poultry, and non-animal sources like beans and nuts provide optimum nutrition. Eggs whites are also a good choice. Red and processed meats (bacon, hot dogs, and luncheon meats) should be consumed sparingly to reduce the risk of heart disease, type-II diabetes, colon cancer, and obesity.
Healthy Oils: Plant-derived fats such as olive, canola, and other plant oils can be used on salads. These fats are heart-healthy and can help reduce cholesterol. Butter, trans-fat, and partially-hydrogenated oils, however, have negative health effects and should be avoided.
Beverages: Water, tea, and lightly-sweetened or black coffee are best. Milk and other dairy should be limited to 1-2 servings per day, and juice should be limited to 1 small serving per day. Sugary drinks such as soda or energy drinks should be avoided.
Physical Activity: A small red figure is depicted running across the placemat, and it reminds the eater that in addition to making healthy food choices, physical activity is absolutely necessary for good health.
The USDA’s version is not necessarily designed with only the consumer in mind. According to Walter Willett, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard, “like the earlier U.S. Department of Agriculture Pyramids, MyPlate mixes science with the influence of powerful agricultural interests, which is not the recipe for healthy eating.” In contrast, “The Healthy Eating Plate is based on the best available scientific evidence and provides consumers with the information they need to make choices that can profoundly affect our health and well being.”
The Bottom Line
If you’ve been reading about diet and nutrition lately, you may have noticed that a simple theme keeps percolating: eat whole foods and stay away from processed, packaged foods.
Key opinion leaders in this area include Walter Willet and his group from Harvard School of Public Health; Michael Pollan who has written several books including Food Rules; Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat and professor at NYU; and Alice Waters, a food activist who promotes organically, locally-grown ingredients (she was instrumental in getting Michelle Obama to plant a garden at the White House).
David H. Rahm, M.D., who founded The Wellness Center and VitaMedica, has always promoted these principles of nutrition.