USDA Nutrition: What's The Meaning Behind My Plate?
For years, USDA nutrition has emphasized the importance of The Food Guide Pyramid.
You remember those days back in elementary and high school, don’t you?
Your classroom was an exhibition hall for laminated posters, and one of the main focal points was a colorful depiction of The Food Guide Pyramid.
For the most part, the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid has been used as an educational tool for decades. Teachers and health professionals alike used this model to get adults and children to eat healthier foods. For others, though, the pyramid itself was too difficult to read, causing people to feel bewildered and baffled by the differences between healthy and unhealthy foods.
In light of decades of confusion, the USDA recently released a new model that hopes to put an end to the confusion between what to eat, and what not to eat.
The new model, following USDA nutrition guidelines, is a dinner plate comprised of four different portions. This new “plate” model, has appropriately been called, “My Plate” and is a simplified version of the former pyramid.
The plate features individual colored sections, representing your daily recommended portion of a certain food group: purple represents protein, orange represents whole grains, green symbolizes vegetables, and red represents fruits.
“This new dinner plate was created to better educate consumers about the nutrition guidelines established by the USDA,” says Christy Shatlock, one of the lead dietitians for BistroMD. “Although The Food Guide Pyramid has been a symbol for what we should and should not eat for decades, it was confusing to read, and didn’t properly distinguish between healthy and unhealthy foods.”
With claims from the USDA that “My Plate” is easier to understand, is it really? We asked some of our very own experts for their thoughts and input on this new nutritional model.
Is The Plate a Good Model for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner?
Since its launch, “My Plate” has been synonymous with most as a healthy dinner. But what about the rest of your meals?
To maintain consistency in your diet, and to promote optimal nutrition, experts agree that the USDA nutrition department needs to create a breakfast plate and a lunch plate that looks similar, but corresponds with each meal.
“Breakfast is tough for a lot of people, with many people considering oatmeal and cereal as being ‘healthy’ choices for breakfast,” says Dr. Cederquist. “These foods can be healthy, but the current model actually encourages a lack of lean protein for breakfast.”
A high, but lean protein breakfast is one of the best ways to start your day, especially if you are trying to lose weight. Lean protein first thing in the morning can help you feel fuller longer, and will give your metabolism the boost it needs to get going.
“Traditionally, people associate breakfast with high-fat foods like bacon and sausage,” says Dr. Cederquist. “You can still have a healthy breakfast by incorporating more lean protein into your meal, like eggs. Switching to Canadian bacon and eating more low-fat cottage cheese can also provide you with adequate protein in the morning, but without the high-fat.”
For lunch, your plate should include a serving of healthy vegetables. This can be achieved by eating a green leafy salad with minimal dressing, or eating a healthy wrap.
“For most people, eating vegetables is hard unless they eat a salad or wrap,” says Christy. “It is important that people get at least two servings of vegetables daily, which can be achieved by eating more salads, or incorporating a side of high-fiber vegetables with lunch and dinner.”
There are other recommendations that our experts emphasize when it comes to following the guidelines of this new USDA nutrition model.
“When shopping for food, it is important that you compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals—choose the foods with the lower numbers,” says Dr. Cederquist.
Our expert dietitian, Christy, also recommends making smarter choices when it comes to what you drink.
Avoid sugary drinks; says Christy. Be cautious of dairy too, even though the plate recommends it. You do not need three servings of dairy each day to be healthy. Instead of taking in so much dairy, drink plenty of water, and eat your recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables. By following these guidelines, living healthy is achievable.