What’s on your plate?

Remember when you first learned about the food pyramid, and it looked so appealing with the fats and oils on top?  This shape was supposed to tell you how you were intended to… layer?… your food and illustrated a few items in each category.  However, I distrust it because I’m not taking nutrition advice from someone who thinks a tomato is a vegetable.  Seriously, people – it’s a fruit.

Then, the pyramid shifted a bit, and turned into a mountain of food, all yours to climb:

But this version really gives you no useful information.  Should I start each day with grains and end with meat and beans?  Make sure my veggies don’t touch my milk?  Eat one slice of… blue each day?

No, that’s no good.  So, earlier this year, the USDA came out with this new way of representing the ideal diet, finally shaped like *gasp* a plate!

Now, we have a visual representation of what our plate should look like each meal – no hiking and stacking pyramid blocks involved.  We’ve taken all the specificity out of these dietary recommendations, making them easier to follow and therefore better, right?

Not so fast.  In taking away the images of specific healthy foods and oversimplifying the sections, the USDA has appeased some of its most powerful lobbies – the meat, potato, and dairy farmers.  Hence, there’s no difference indicated between whole grains and others, there’s still room on the plate for potatoes, and there’s a straight out recommendation that a healthy meal includes one full (still blue) circle of dairy.  It also removes even that mild, stair-climbing reminder that exercise is crucial to staying healthy.

Well, my friends down the road at Harvard were having none of this.  Just a few months after we shifted to this plate model, they introduced their own version, and used it to correct/point out all the flaws with the original.

There’s a plate that makes sense.  The proteins and grains have been amended to be “healthy protein” and “whole grains” (because isn’t Wonder Bread just sugar anyway?) and oils have been added back in (heck yeah).  I also like the jab in the vegetable corner – “potatoes and french fries don’t count (so there you silly lobbies)”.

This version is definitely harder to read than the USDA version, but it seems much more likely to make a difference in how people actually eat, and help us make healthy choices.  That said, it’s already under some criticism (why limit your dairy, if you’re eating healthy things in that food group to start with?  And where to sweet potatoes belong?) and it still doesn’t get to the one thing I think we should be most concerned about – how big is this plate, anyway?

Overall, we’re getting much closer to finding a logical way to represent the ideal diet.  Now, people need to choose to actually follow it.  I have been working on filling half my plate with veggies (only the left half, ya know) and searching for new sources of protein, but I still have  a ways to go with whole grains and limiting oil (and eliminating sugar, apparently!).

What do you think?  Do you like Harvard’s plate?  Got another version you prefer, like the one below?  Let me know what you think!

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