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Time to Clear My Plate. Before You Get Triggered by My Plate, Read This.

Posted Jun 04 2011 10:27am
Oh, Michelle, I so appreciate your honest and passionate concern for improving the health of our nation, particularly our kids. Really I do! But quite frankly, the subtle messages conveyed through the new USDA My Plate set us way back in our progress.
That’s not to say that I find nothing favorable about it. I do like the bright colors (they make me feel like a kid again), and the concept of half the plate as fruits and vegetables is truly a helpful, and reasonable teaching visual. And, a message I can support. But here’s where we part.

Where are the fats?

Ok, I realize that in the written food group description fats get mentioned, but not encouraged. And let’s face it—it’s the visual image that makes the biggest impact. And in that regard, fats are absent. Yes, in spite of the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans summarizing the enormous body of research and declaring that increasing (unsaturated) fats should be a goal, comprising up to 30% of all our calories, this message is lost in My Plate.

In fact, in the description accompanying the image, it even sheds a negative light, saying “oils are not a food group”. And by oils they really mean fats, because avocado, for instance is not oil. Funny, in past pyramids, such as 2005, fats were a distinct part of the pyramid and were scattered around as a component of the other food groups. And if fats are not a food group, why is protein? If I remember my basic nutrition way back the three macronutritent groups making up all foods are protein, fats and carbohydrate. Yet My Plate places the nutrient protein on the plate, a component of foods, as if it’s a food, yet states that fats have no place? I don’t get it.

Where’s my favorite food group?

But perhaps the biggest problem I have is the omission of those “empty calorie” villains, the “sweets”. Past health messages from the American Dietetics Association and the recent aforementioned Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 instructs us to “find balance between food and physical activity.” At no point do they suggest we should eliminate sweets to prevent obesity.
And speaking of those additional calories, why make such an overreaching statement like “Enjoy your food, but eat less”? Should I suggest this to my normal weight sons? To the healthy growing kids I see? To the many I work with struggling with trusting their hunger, many of whom are working hard to increase their calories by appropriately eating more? Should I be eating less as I’m training for a biking event this month? Such an unnecessary and detrimental generalization! Would it take an eating disordered child for Michelle to be more sensitive to such absurd health recommendations?

This dietitian endorses a health-promoting message to include junk food!

Here’s the scoop. Black and white messages about good foods to eat and bad foods to avoid are damaging. They contribute to society being misinformed about weight management, and about eating in a healthy, balanced and pleasurable way. In life kids and adults are going to eat cupcakes and chocolate and ice cream in all flavors. The problem won’t be that we’re eating these foods. It’s that we view them as bad, feel guilty, and end up overeating them, because we have been convinced that we have done wrong by consuming them—in any amount. Rigid rules and clear omissions teach us nothing. They reinforce the wrong messages. It’s time to get with the times.

Why the beef about dairy?

And to the critics of inclusion of a dairy serving, like Walter Willet at Harvard (who says there’s no evidence to support including a dairy requirement), I’d like to ask you this—are you thinking we’re going to meet our requirement for calcium and Vitamin D from sardines, canned salmon, almonds and broccoli? I don’t think so. Perhaps the USDA could have done better by broadening that category to say “milk and fortified soy milk”; no other non-dairy alternative provides as much protein as well as calcium and Vit D. Yes, there is evidence that we need an adequate intake of these two nutrients, and practical, economical, acceptable sources are few and far between outside of dairy products.
As for the interactive resources, I would love to share my thoughts. But after signing in, the program failed to work when I tried to explore the physical activity section.

Time to go eat. My plate will include some homemade waffles this morning, fruit, yogurt, and real Vermont, full sugar maple syrup. And I just might decide to include a piece of pastry for my afternoon snack. And in spite of what My Plate urges, I have no intentions of reducing my portions from their usual level!

Thanks for reading! Enjoy your sweets today.

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