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Harvard Nutrition Experts and the Healthy Eating Plate

Jun 27, 2014

Do you remember the food pyramid? It was food guide chart that traces its roots to the Second World War rationing times. In 1943, many Swedes complained about food quality leading the government there to study diets and create a recommended “food pyramid” outlining what foods should be eaten and how much. That pyramid eventually found its way across the Atlantic and was widely adopted by Americans and used for many years.

In 2011, the food pyramid was redone and reshaped into a circle representing a plate (MyPlate) and divided into four sections: fruits, grains, protein, and vegetables. The USDA’s thinking, with First Lady Michelle Obama’s input, was to create an easier to follow and more helpful food plan for Americans. Well, that food plate has been questioned by some, with Harvard University taking the initiative to develop its own version known as the “healthy eating plate.”

Healthy Eating Plate

The Healthy Eating Plate is based on the findings of Harvard nutrition experts with an emphasis on a plant-based diet encompassing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy protein. It also brings in two more sections: healthy oils and water, the latter including both tea and coffee.

“Unfortunately, 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,” said Walter Willett, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and chair of the Department of Nutrition at HSPH. “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.”

A Balanced Diet

To achieve a balanced diet, Harvard researchers advise people to fill up half their plate with fruit and vegetables. Fruit should be of all colors and vegetable variety is also important. Potatoes and French fries do not count.

Whole grains should comprise one-quarter of the plate and can include brown rice, whole grain past, and whole wheat bread. Refine grains such as white rice and white bread should be restricted.

The remaining part of the plate covers your protein needs — you can achieve a healthy diet by consuming poultry, fish, beans and nuts. Red meat and cheese should be limited while bacon, cold cuts and other processed meats should be avoided.

The two new sections may raise some eyebrows, not so much for what they include, but what isn’t there, namely an abundance of dairy products. Healthy oils such as olive and canola for cooking, on salads and at the table are advised. Trans fats are to be avoided and butter should be used only in limitd quantities.

Water should be the drink of choice, what encompasses tea and coffee with little to no sugar consumed. Sugary drinks should be avoided. Milk may be consumed, but limited to one or two drinks per day.

Staying Active

Besides the food recommendations, Harvard researchers have placed a “stay active” notation near the plate. No specific exercise regimen was outlined, but activity is important for weight control.

Food Diet Quality

Harvard’s researchers put the emphasis on food diet quality over quantity. The type of carbohydrate consumed is more important than the amount as some types of carbohydrates are better for you than others.

Notably absent are sugary drinks, what are regularly consumed by Americans and have little nutritional value. Sodas, sweetened tea, and other beverages are not included. Also not found are desserts, a staple of many American’s diets.

Notes:

Cooperative Union: A Test Kitchen Was a Cooking Studio (translated from Swedish) — http://www.mersmak.kf.se/Toppmeny-startsida-/KFBibliotek/Kooperativ-kronika-startsida/Sok/KF-Kronika—Visa-artikel/?articleid=641

Harvard School of Public Health: Healthy Eating Plate & Healthy Eating Pyramid — http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/

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