The healthy plate debate

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The healthy plate debateGoodbye food pyramid diagram….Hello, MyPlate!

MyPlate is the current nutrition guide published by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). It depicts a plate divided into four food groups and a glass of milk. In July 2011, MyPlate replaced the USDA’s MyPyramid, ending its controversial 19-year reign. Soon after, the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School developed the Healthy Eating Plate. This version makes distinctions about the grains and proteins to be consumed and replaces milk with water.

Harvard points out that its plate gives consumers the healthiest choices in the major food groups, based exclusively on the best available science rather than political and commercial pressures.

So, who is right? Is one plate better than the other? Is there a Canadian alternative?

The dinner plate as a model for healthy eating began in Sweden in the 1980s and has been embraced by dietitians in Canada and Europe. Both the American Dietetic Association and the American Institute for Cancer Research use it to help members with weight management and risk reduction. As the US and the world face a growing obesity epidemic, the very best nutrition advice is critical. To that end, both plates are moving us into healthier choices.

Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate goes well beyond dividing a plate into four coloured sections. It shows that a plant-based diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and proteins when combined with staying active can lower the risk of weight gain and chronic disease. It clearly offers the healthier choices for each food group while suggesting what to avoid and limit. It reminds us to choose healthy vegetable oils and recommends drinking more water.

It takes some digging on the USDA website to learn that whole grains are a better choice than refined grains, or that beans, nuts, fish, and chicken are healthier choices than red meat. Healthy fats, a key to heart health, are not featured on the plate or on the table.

We are concerned that the USDA’s MyPlate is not a decisive and proactive solution towards shifting Americans away from the Standard American Diet that includes high doses of carbohydrates, fats, and processed foods.

In Canada we still use Health Canada’s Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide. So far no “plates” have been proposed by Dietitians of Canada or Canadian health organizations. Yet, various provinces and associations have proposed versions of Harvard’s Healthy Plate and the USDA’s MyPlate.

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