In June 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture introduced MyPlate as its new food icon to replace the food pyramid.
MyPlate divides a food plate into four food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains and protein, with each food group making up 25 percent of the plate.
Instead of eating an equal amount of fruits and vegetables, however, Michelle Dennison, licensed and registered dietitian with the Harold Hamm Diabetes Center, recommends that a plate have 30 percent vegetables and 20 percent fruits.
“While fruit is great for you and low in fat,” she says, “it is also high in calories and carbohydrates and should be eaten in moderation.”
Instead of consuming fruit juices, Dennison suggests fresh fruit that can be chewed. This way, a person is taking in fiber and feels full more quickly.
Most dietitians, including Dennison, have embraced the MyPlate guidelines.
“The food pyramid was confusing to read and confusing to teach,” says Dennison. “MyPlate helps the general public visually get it; it is something that people can self-learn, instead of having to be taught.”
MyPlate creates a visualization of how a plate should look and if the meal meets proper nutritional guidelines.
“A lot of people don’t keep a running checklist of what they’re eating through the day,” says Saint Francis Registered and Licensed Dietitian Sonja Stolfa. “With MyPlate, they can just focus on what’s in front of them on their plate.” Stolfa has already seen great improvements in many of her patients with the new guidelines.
“After learning about MyPlate, many of my patients have said they didn’t realize how much food they put on their plates and how large restaurant plates are,” she says. “Often, a person can get three meals from one restaurant entrée.”
Dietitians recommend that people eat off a smaller plate in order to trick their minds into thinking they are eating more. Slowing down the speed of consumption is another weight-loss tool.
“Many of us eat beyond fullness because we are eating too quickly and don’t realize that we are full,” says Stolfa. “If we could become more attuned to our body’s triggers and learn to eat slower, we would have much better weight management.”
The key is for individuals to gain control of what they eat and make healthy eating a lifestyle, instead of a short-term diet.
“We have to remember that we are eating to live, not living to eat,” Stolfa says. “Once individuals gain control over their cravings, most find that healthy eating is easy to maintain.”
That doesn’t mean, though, that giving in to cravings is never allowed.
Stolfa teaches the 80/20 rule, where a person’s diet is made up of 80 percent nutritious food. But she does warn of consuming too much sugar.
Sugar is such an addictive food, she says. If people can reduce their sugar intake, they will see big improvements. But we still want to allow ourselves to eat something that we crave occasionally so that we don’t go on a junk food binge.
Stolfa looks forward to seeing MyPlate bring about better nutritional understanding also among children.
“MyPlate is a good start in teaching everyone the proper daily food intake, including children,” she says. “It’s amazing how few vegetables children eat in a day and in a week.”
Dennison, however, cautions her patients to watch which kinds of vegetables they consume. MyPlate categorizes beans, potatoes and corn as vegetables.
“These foods are starchy vegetables,” Dennison says. “If people are eating only these things as their vegetable allotment, they could experience weight gain. Instead, they need to consume mostly leafy green vegetables, which increase fiber, minerals and vitamins.”