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September 24, 2011 at 8:00 AMComments: 8 Faves: 0

Introducing a Newly Revised MyPlate with Nutrition Edge: The Healthy Eating Plate

By Jessica Corwin MPH RDN More Blogs by This Author

Although the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture (USDA) launched their healthy eating tool and addendum to MyPyramid known as MyPlate less than one-year ago, the Harvard School of Public Health has already offered an enhanced version referred to as the Healthy Eating Plate.

The original version of MyPlate is a basic display of a dinner plate divided into appropriately sized sections for each food group: fruit, vegetables, grains, protein, and a glass off to the side representing dairy. While many have critiqued MyPlate for it's simplicity, others have praised this aspect as it is easy to understand and great for use in nutrition education for all ages. However, there still remains a group of people who need greater details. For example, the food group title of "grains" does not give you any indication of what grains might be better for you than others, rather allowing you to believe white processed pasta is equal in nutrition to a whole grain pasta (of course YOU already know whole grains are preferred! *smile*). The same reins true in the other categories as well:

  • should your protein come from a fatty form of steak or a lean turkey breast? 
  • are greasy fries a healthier vegetable choice than jicama sticks? 
  • is slices peaches in syrup the same as a fresh peach? and 
  • would a handful of full-fat cheese be just as good for you as a reduced-fat yogurt?

It is largely because of these unanswered questions within MyPlate that the Harvard School of Public Health chose to offer a new solution. A solution that provides greater insight into each one of the five food groups and helps answer the most basic nutrition questions, helping you know what you should include on YOUR Healthy Eating Plate.

The Healthy Eating Plate provides most of the same basic food groups, yet replaces the glass of dairy with a water glass with the recommendation to limit your dairy to 1-2 servings per day. Harvard nutrition experts also chose to include an additional component with a small jar of healthy oils off to the side to guide us towards healthy fat choices. Here is a quick run down of this new tool:

  • Healthy Proteins: Opt for fish, poultry, beans and nuts, while avoiding bacon, cold-cuts, and other processed meats.
  • Whole Grains: Choose whole grains to replace white, processed, refined grains.
  • Vegetables: Outside of potatoes and french fries, you can't go wrong with veggies. Dig in! 
  • Fruits: Enjoy a rainbow of fruit options.
  • Water: Choose beverages with very little (if any) sugar such as water, coffee, and tea. Juice should be limited to 1 small glass per day and dairy products (including milk) should be limited to 1-2 small glasses per day.
  • Healthy Oils: Just as Rachel Ray would advise, opt for oils rich in healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil. While keeping portions in mind, these oils will make great additions to your suppers and salads. Avoid trans-fats, (partially) hydrogenated oils, and limit butter.

Certainly great advice with a few controversial recommendations sprinkled in, advice which will surely cause a stir in the food and nutrition world. I certainly admire that about the Harvard School of Public Health, they are not afraid to voice their opinion in the non-profit world :)

What do you think of this advice? Is this more or less helpful than the USDA's original MyPlate? Do you agree with the dairy recommendations offered by Harvard or USDA?

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8 Comments

  • I don't think they should exclude potatoes. Just because we abuse them by removing all the nutritious skin, deep frying them, and over-indulging doesn't mean that the food itself is bad.

  • Jessica this is very helpful I like the idea of the proportions but I do wonder who usually eats fruit for dinner? Unless it is for dessert! Thanks for the updated knowledge.

  • I'm with Seth on this one! Potatoes don't have to be loaded with condiments. It's not their fault people prepare them that way! Besides - studies show eating potatoes on a regular basis can help reduce blood pressure! :)

  • Thanks for posting this Jessica, very good info and something to spark a discussion!

    Seth and Erin, I am with both of you two! Potatoes are a big part of my diet. I love red skin potatoes. I leave the skin on, rinse them and stick them in the oven to bake. I honestly could eat them just like that and without any added butter or salt.

    Nancy, I normally don't eat fruit with dinner either. I eat it with my lunch, and sometimes for breakfast depending on what I am having. However, I am an avid snacker and fruit is always great for a snack in between meals.

    I don't know if I agree with limiting dairy to 1-2 servings a day. Mostly because I love dairy and definitely eat more than that each day. Cheese and yogurt are some of my favorite foods!

  • @Nancy - We usually try to have some fruit with the start of dinner. Fresh fruit is a great source of enzymes. Pineapple is an ideal choice, but we regularly have oranges, peaches, or apples, maybe a small bowl of red grapes or a half banana.

  • I agree with everyone here - potatoes do get a bad rap. It all depends how you prepare them...and yes, all things in moderation :)

    Bri, I think it's because dairy often has a lot of fat in it. It's also not the most effective source of calcium. Milk has been shown to have very little (if any) positive effect on fractures/osteoporosis, and may actually contribute to heart disease and prostate cancer. (link: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/calcium-full-story/index.html)

    Don't get me wrong, I love cheese and yogurt too! I just think that it's not the perfect source of nutrition it's often portrayed to be.

  • @Sprouty, I agree 100%. Potatoes and sweet potatoes are excellent sources of nutrition, providing a great source of potassium - a nutrient that may help us battle against our sodium diets. This is a major issue in school lunches as well... I am glad you brought this up!

    @Nancy, I am one to enjoy fruit after dinner as a snack... though I can certainly understand what you are getting at. I believe the recommendations of MyPlate and Harvard are slightly blurred when it comes to fruits and vegetables. MyPlate encourages us to make half of our plate fruits and veggies, though if you are not eating fruit at that particular meal then we should make half of our plate all veggies. The overall recommendations from both are to do your best when it comes to balancing out your plate. If you would rather have your fruit in the morning, I think they would understand :)

  • I am so excited to see such interesting discussion and comments from all of you! You are certainly a well-versed group in the world of health!

    The issue of dairy in itself can spark a world of debate. Calcium is a tricky mineral when it comes to absorption. There are aspects of animal based dairy that limit absorption and there are also aspects in plant-based dairy that may do the same. Even the green leafy vegetables recommended to boost calcium intake are difficult to absorb. Another component lies in vitamin D. If you are not getting enough vitamin D (particularly D3, a non-vegan source), you will not absorb the calcium either. And finally, even if you find a great source of calcium and eat a healthy portion, your body can only absorb a maximum of 500 milligrams at a time. Therefore if you have even two servings of dairy, you are already at 600 milligrams...

    What a complex world exists within our digestive system!

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