There is no doubt about it that most people would agree that your health, or lack thereof, has a lot to do with your diet. For many years, the U.S. Government promoted the Food Pyramid as a guide for healthy eating. Statistics can easily prove that the United States has been experiencing serious problems over the last several decades as obesity has skyrocketed and other associated diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease have also risen to levels never seen before. In June of 2011, the U.S. Government replaced the Food Pyramid with My Plate.
Many people have found My Plate easier to relate with given the fact that you are looking at a plate versus a pyramid in regards to the various ratios of different food types. Another improvement with My Plate from the Food Pyramid was reducing the size of the grains category. The Food Pyramid featured grains as the largest category, which included bread, cereal, rice and pasta. Marion Nestle, a professor in the department of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University reported, “It promoted eating so many grain servings, it was promoting obesity.”1
A new category on My Plate is Protein. This can lead to confusion given the fact all of the other categories on My Plate are conventionally classified as food types, which are divided into groups based on the nutrients they contain. There are traditionally six food groups which include vegetables, fruit, grains, dairy, beans/meats and fat. Protein is considered a nutrient. Nutrients are also conventionally divided into six essential groups including protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins, minerals and water. It is inaccurate to call food protein, given the fact that protein is a nutrient. Most of the food groups can include protein, which can create some confusion.
What’s Missing From My Plate?
(Saturated) Fats and Oils
You may notice that fats and oils were left off of My Plate. Even the portion of dairy that is illustrated on the cup on My Plate is recommended to be low-fat or no-fat. Research shows that consuming whole-fat dairy instead of low-fat or no-fat may reduce the risk of diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer including colon cancer. Fats and oils can be a crucial make or break point of optimal nutritional impact. Fats and oils can either be health-promoting or health-damaging. Health-promoting fats and oils are critical to many processes in your body including healthy brain and cardiovascular function, hormone production, controlling inflammation, and being a critical building block of the walls of every cell in your body. These health-promoting fats and oils can come from both plant and animal sources. Some of your healthiest choices include olive oil, coconut oil, and butter from grass-fed sources. Other healthy food sources for these health-promoting oils and fats include free-range eggs, grass-fed meats, wild-caught salmon, avocado and various nuts and seeds. Some of these foods are relatively high in saturated fats which have been wrongfully demonized for many years. A meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal was published in 2015 finding no association with high levels of saturated fat in the diet and heart disease.2 This study did reveal an increased risk of cardiovascular disease with trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) consumption which are commonly found in processed foods including margarine, microwave popcorn and snack foods such as cookies, crackers and cakes. Trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) are the most health-damaging fats and should be eliminated from your diet. Another more recent review of unpublished data of information collected in the 1960’s and 1970’s was published in the BMJ in 2016 that disproves the long held belief that a diet high in vegetable oils reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality compared to a diet high in saturated fat.3 This study followed over 9000 people over a five year period and divided the people into 2 groups. One group ate a diet high in saturated fat, while the other group had the saturated fat replaced with vegetable oils. The vegetable oil group did see a decrease in their cholesterol levels, although nearly doubled their incidence of heart attack and stroke. A similar analysis was published in the BMJ in 2013, using data from the Sydney Diet Heart Study with similar results: Substituting saturated fat with vegetable oil, rich in Omega-6 essential fatty acids, increases the risk of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease, and increases the risk of death from all causes.4
Another vital nutrient missing from My Plate is water. Often overlooked, many people simply do not drink adequate amounts of water. I encounter this every day in discussions with patients at our office. Inadequate water intake can lead to a variety of problems including, but not limited to headaches, dizziness, constipation, muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat, fatigue, kidney stones, urinary tract infections, and irritability. In order to ensure you are getting an adequate amount of water, take your body weight, divide it in half and this is minimally how many ounces of water you should be drinking per day. Any other beverages you consume including coffee, tea, juice, or alcohol are not included in this amount.
“One of the most important fields of medical science over the past 50 years is the research that shows just how powerfully our health is affected by what we eat. Knowing what foods to eat and in what proportions is crucial for health.” said Anthony Komaroff, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and editor in chief of Harvard Health Publications.5