The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently introduced the plate-shaped icon, replacing the food pyramid. Which is better? The answer is they are both great simple guides from the government to help you make healthy food choices. But, it is important to note that a visual graphic is just a start.
Consumers who are interested in eating healthy and making healthy choices must do some additional research and get more information; this was as true with the pyramid as it is with the plate.
The nice thing about the plate is that it is a visual representation of what each meal should look like. As with all simplified guidelines, there are a few possible pitfalls, including no mention of physical activity, lack of detail about how to select the healthiest foods and lack of information on portion sizes. This is where the getting additional information becomes important.
Remember that to maintain a healthy weight you must consider the concept of energy balance. Put simply, to lose weight, you must eat fewer calories than you burn or burn more that you eat. The previous version of the pyramid did emphasize the need for physical activity, an issue which the plate guide does not address.
Selecting the Healthiest Foods
Although, the new plate does emphasize eating more fruits and vegetables, there is no information about which vegetables and fruits are the best. To some, that may be translated as I should load up on fried okra and peaches canned in syrup or starchy vegetables like corn, peas, and potatoes that are three times higher in calories than green beans or broccoli.
It is also great to recommend eating more fruits and vegetables, but a clarification that this means focusing on adding fresh or frozen vegetables that are not fried or enhanced with butter, cheese or high calorie sauces would be even better.
It is also important to eat a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables and to choose fresh fruits over canned or dried most often. Sorry, but fruit gummies are not considered a serving of fruit.
Portion size can be a downfall too. It is important to base your eating guidelines on a regular sized dinner plate. Believe it or not there is significant variation in plate sizes. Follow these guidelines for choosing certain higher calorie foods:
- 1 fruit serving = tennis ball
- 1.5 oz. cheese = 4 stacked dice
- 3 oz. meat = deck of cards or computer mouse
- 2 Tbsp. peanut butter = a ping pong ball
- 1/2 cup ice cream = 1 scoop
- 1 oz. bread = CD case
- 1 cup cereal = a fist
- 3 oz. fish = a checkbook
- 1 cup of rice, pasta or potatoes = baseball
The most important thing to remember is that plate or pyramid is just a general nutrition guide that is easy to visualize and understand. If you are really trying to eat healthier, lose weight or have special nutrition needs, you will need more information to be successful. In these cases, you may want to consider meeting with a registered dietitian for more specific advice.
Julie Paul is a registered dietitian with WakeMed ENERGIZE!, a program to help kids and teens who either have type 2 diabetes or who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes learn to make healthy lifestyle changes. Learn more by clicking here.