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Go Ahead...Make My Plate

the end of the food pyramid

The old familiar food pyramid has been replaced with a new icon designed to help us make healthier food choices at each meal. ChooseMyPlate is the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) quick visual reminder on how consumers can adopt healthier eating habits meal by meal. The icon is a simple plate design based on some of the key messages in the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines that can be mirrored on our own dinner plates when trying to make healthier food choices.  To visit the USDA website click here.

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ChooseMyPlate Key Messages

ChooseMyPlate depicts a dinner plate that contains half fruits and vegetables, one-quarter grains, and one-quarter protein, with a side order of milk. This visual cue is based on the following US Dietary Guidelines:

Make Half Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables:

ChooseMyPlate is very clear in its depiction that a healthy meal is comprised of plenty of fruits and vegetables. That’s because people who consume more fruits and vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet may have a reduced risk of come chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. And, all those fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants – especially when you choose fruits and vegetables ‘close to their original form’, such as snacking on an apple, skin included vs., drinking apple juice.

Dining hall Dos: Stumped about how to max out your dinner plate with fruits and vegetables besides always hitting the salad bar? Look for these ideas-

·         Choose a piece of fruit instead of fries with your sandwich

·         Use your meal plan at the Farmer’s Market on Lower Campus

·         Choose plenty of vegetables at stir fry, Mexican and sandwich bars

·         Try some of the great pre-made entrée salads in the grab’n’go refrigerators

·         Experiment with different combinations at McElroy’s B’N Green, a big hit

·         Tomato sauce counts!

·         Use the vegetable du jour or make a small salad of vegetable ingredients that you can use to doctor up your own creation. For example, stuff a baked potato with vegetables and some cheese and heat it in the microwave; add vegetables to your pasta and sauce; make a pita pocket of your choice of vegetables and beans. You get the idea.

·         Take fresh fruit or cut fruit back to your room for a snack. Put some peanut butter on a banana or an apple or combine fruit with some yogurt for a snack that has staying power.

 

Make at Least Half of Your Grains Whole Grains:

MakeMyPlate depicts the advice that one-quarter of our dinner plate should be grains. The US Dietary Guidelines takes the message a step further and urges us to make more whole grain choices. Whole grains are the form of the plant that leaves the grain structure intact (or whole) thus providing the vitamins, minerals, and fiber contained in the outer portion that is otherwise removed during processing.  Like those who consume ample fruits and vegetables, people who consume whole grains as part of an overall healthy diet may have a reduced risk of similar chronic diseases. Plus, whole grains are a source of B vitamins, minerals –such as magnesium, and fiber. Dietary fiber found in whole grains plays a role in controlling blood sugar and lipid levels, helps digestion, and promotes a feeling of fullness with fewer calories than many fatty or sugary foods.

Dining hall Dos: Stumped about how to max out your dinner plate with whole grains besides eating oatmeal for every meal? Look for these ideas-

·         Choose whole wheat or multi-grain breads when ordering a sandwich or making toast

·         Try the whole wheat pasta on the menu

·         Treat yourself to whole wheat pizza crust on vegetable pizzas

·         Give brown rice a try with your next stir-fry

·         Mix in some Cheerios, Mini-Wheats, Raisin Bran or Wheaties  into your favorite sugary kiddy cereal and slowly wean yourself to having a whole bowl of just whole grain cereal.

·         Check out the grab’n’go refrigerators for whole grain Vegan Macro entrees with such dishes as brown rice risotto or Thai dumplings

Switch to Fat-free or Low-fat Milk:

MakeMyPlate simply depicts a glass of milk with the dinner plate, reminding us that we need three good sources of calcium and vitamin D per day to support our bone health. The US Dietary Guidelines further advise that those dairy choices should be fat-free or at least low-fat to minimize intake of saturated fats and extra calories. Plus, fat-free and low-fat milk have more protein in a serving than the full fat version; you get more of all the good nutrients in a glass when you remove the fat and still fill the glass.

Dining hall Dos: It is easy to switch to lower fat milk since low-fat and fat-free milks are widely available on campus. Plus, there is Lactaide milk for those with lactose intolerance and soy milk for those who avoid cow’s milk. The soy milk available on campus is fortified with calcium and vitamin D to match that of cow’s milk. If you find it hard on your taste buds to make the switch, consider a slow wean to lower fat by combining the 2% milk and fat-free milk in the self-serve milk stations in the dining hall, gradually making a mix of less and less 2% milk. Other options for lower fat dairy on campus include a variety of brands and flavors of yogurts.

Go Lean on Protein:

MakeMyPlate depicts one-quarter of the plate as protein, reminding all of us that while we do need protein, we don’t need too much. Unless you are on a muscle-building mission, most people do not need a high protein diet. And, if you consume too much protein and you already met your daily calorie quota, too much protein will contribute to too many calories! Protein is in animal and plant foods. Meat, fish, poultry, milk, and eggs are animal proteins; beans, and nuts, seeds (and nut butters) are plant sources.  Make your protein lean by choosing skinless poultry, fish, and lean cuts of red meat (such as those that have ‘loin’ in the name). Steer clear of fried and sauce-covered versions of these proteins, opting for baked or grilled choices. Better yet, try more plant-based proteins for great nutrition and a healthier planet. Gone are the days when it was felt that plant proteins needed to be consumed in various combinations to be healthy. You can read more about that idea here.

Dining hall Dos: Lean protein choices are everywhere in the dining halls! Try these ideas:

·         Try a three bean or turkey chili for lunch

·         Be adventuresome and try a new type of fish, like grilled mahi-mahi, that is on the menu. Grilled salmon is a great source of healthy fats and is frequently available at dinner

·         Take your pick of beans  along with vegetables and pasta at B’N Green in McElroy

·         Opt for a Mexican Plate with black or pinto beans instead of beef. Ditto for the quesadilla and fajita plates.

·         Choose the grill over the fryolator. Have your chicken as a grilled chicken breast instead of fried fingers.

·         Lean out your sandwich choices. Sliced turkey, chicken, roast beef, and vegetarian sandwiches are healthier choices than a daily steak and cheese sub!

·         Watch for entrees listed in green on the on-line menus and experiment with some new plant-based meals; even one more plant-based meal a week is a good start.

·         Look for lean proteins in the grab’n’ go refrigerators: turkey sandwich on multigrain bread, chef’s salad, and Vegan Macro meals are great options. Try the chickpea masala on some brown rice.

·         Existing on salads? Before taste fatigue sends you searching for a burger and fries, swap off to some meal-like options with a protein (grilled chicken and a hot vegetable, for instance) or at least make sure you are getting a heaping serving of protein choices in your salad. Grilled chicken, eggs, edamame and other beans, plus tofu are great protein options.

MyPlate Misses

Critics of the new food icon point out that the icon is very nonspecific regarding advice about healthy choices within each of the food groups depicted. Plus, it is completely silent on the topic of solid fats, added sugars, and alcohol –together often referred to as empty or discretionary calories. Empty calories are those with no redeeming nutritional content but with a dose of extra calories. While fatty foods and added sugars will not cause weight gain if they aren’t contributing to intake of extra calories, these foods often are the culprit sources of extra calories in the diet. The US Dietary Guidelines advise us that we all have a unique budget of discretionary or extra calories that fit into our diet as a treat once we have met all of our nutritional requirements for the day. Discretionary calories are based on overall energy requirements and are increased in more active people because of a need for increased fuel for activity. It is all about balance. Check out your discretionary calorie budget and the message on reducing intake of solid fat and sugary drinks at