Thursday, May 14, 2020

MyPlate Versus The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate

In 2011, the USDA published its latest nutrition recommendations with My Plate. My Plate consists of a simple picture of a plate that visually illustrates what we should be eating at each meal. 

The plate has 4 segments, one for fruits, vegetables, protein and whole grains and a glass of milk on the side. While this was definitely a step forward from the Food Guide Pyramids that preceded My Plate, the recommendations were not based entirely on the latest nutrition research.

In response, Harvard University’s Department of Nutrition published their own healthy eating plate that does a much better job of providing nutrition recommendations. The Harvard version is based on the current research in the field of nutrition and is not subjects to lobbying or political pressures of any kind.

As you can see, the Harvard plate has more detailed recommendations. Let’s take a look at how the two compare:

-Fruits and Vegetables: The MyPlate graphic simply shows that half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables. While this is a great start, the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate goes a step further to mention that variety is important and that potatoes and French fries don’t count as vegetables. These are 2 important distinctions.

-Grains: The MyPlate graphic simply shows that ¼ of your plate should include grains. The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate gives a lot more information here. It recommends to focus on whole grains such as brown rice and to limit refined grains, such as white bread. This is a much better recommendation since distinct types of grains can have very different impacts on health.

-Proteins: The MyPlate graphic simply shows that ¼ of your plate should be filled with protein. The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate provides more detailed instructions to choose fish, poultry, beans and nuts and to limit red meat and cheese and to avoid bacon, cold cuts and other processed meats. These recommendations much better reflect current research evidence on the health effects of protein.

-Milk: The MyPlate graphic shows a glass of milk off to one side of the plate. It recommends dairy at every meal. The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate has a glass of water with the recommendation to drink water, tea or coffee, limit dairy to 1-2 servings per day and to avoid juice and sugary drinks. We don’t need large amounts of dairy in our diet. There is little evidence that a high dairy consumption decreases risk of osteoporosis and very high intakes of dairy can actually be harmful, raising the risk of prostate and ovarian cancer.

Dietary Fat: MyPlate offers no guidance on the consumption of dietary fats. Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate recommends consuming healthy vegetable oils such as olive oil and canola oil and to limit butter and trans fat. These are important recommendations to include.

Physical Activity: MyPlate offers no message about physical activity. The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate has a little stick figure running in the bottom left with the reminder to stay active. This is a simple yet relevant message about the importance of physical activity in weight maintenance as well as general good health.

Conclusions And Recommendations
Although USDA’s MyPlate is a step forward, the recommendations do not reflect the latest research evidence in the field of nutrition. The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate is a much better guide and should be the reference for those looking to improve their diet and reduce their risk of chronic disease.

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