USDA Food Plate: Better than Pyramid

USDA food plate

Revised USDA food tells a new tale.

The revised USDA food plate, encouraged by Michelle Obama in 2011, has been applauded by many nutritionists and health experts as being easier to comprehend, and downright more practical. What does it mean? Let’s lay out the plate.

Here are the basics, according to the USDA:

Enjoy your food, but eat less

Avoid over-sized portions: This is a relatively new push by the USDA to stem the tide of obesity in the U.S.

Currently, about 72 million Americans—nearly one-third of the population—are obese according to the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination.

Research from the National Center for Chronic Disease and Prevention determined that in 2006, among communities across the country, 52% to 74% of Americans are obese or overweight, with a nationwide average of 62%. In 2007—just one year later—estimated rates of being overweight or obese ranged up to 77%, with an average of 63%—nearly 1% greater than a year before.

Foods to Increase

Drawing from decades of research, the USDA makes several clear instructions regarding increasing healthy foods. This of course contrasts with the many fad diets that proclaim eating glutenous portions of one thing or the other. Let’s review the foods the USDA feels Americans should increase:

Fruits and Vegetables:  “Make half your plate fruits and vegetables” is the USDA proclamation. Consider the importance of this. If half of our diet is fruits and vegetables, then we are getting a wealth of phyto-nutrition, fiber and antioxidants.

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Whole grains: ” Make at least half your grains whole grains” is what the USDA requests. This equates to more fiber. The USDA suggests children consume 3-5 ounces of grain, and adults consume from 6-8 ounces of grain. The USDA also suggests half of this is whole grain, meaning consisting of soluble and insoluble fiber. Most nutritionists recommend 30-45 grams of fiber per day for health.

Milk: “Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.” The USDA believes that fat-free or low-fat milk is healthier, specifically because of the problem with obesity. This of course defines milk as being pasteurized. Unpasteurized, raw milk provides a host of healthy fats along with healthy probiotics. Milk and other dairy is put off to the side in a round, cup-like shape. Interesting.

Foods to Reduce

“Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals ― and choose the foods with lower numbers.” By “sodium” of course, the USDA means processed salt – sodium chloride. Processed salt has been shown to increase blood pressure and heart disease. Whole salt, according to some evidence, does not have this issue.

“Drink water instead of sugary drinks.” A very wise suggestion from the USDA, given the glut of sugary sodas Americans consume. Americans also tend to be dehydrated, according to many experts.

Let’s not forget protein: The new USDA plate restricts the protein content to less than one fourth of our diet. A wise move, given Americans’ ravenous (and unhealthy) approach to protein foods with high saturated fats. This also of course conflicts with high-protein fad diets.

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Unlike fruits, vegetables and whole grains, Americans have no lack of protein in their diets. The western diet already contains an incredible amount of protein. According to the numbers, Americans eat far beyond the amount of protein required for health. According to an analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, American children consume an average of 56 grams of protein per day while adults consume 91 (± 22) grams per day.  This is significantly higher than the 25-50 grams of protein consumed by adults in most healthy traditional diets around the world.

This amount of protein in the American diet is also significantly higher than the World Health Organization recommendations for protein consumption, and even higher than the (higher) U.S. RDA levels. The U.S. recommended daily allowance for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram (2.2 lbs) of body weight. Even this higher RDA converts to 54 grams for an (adult) person weighing 150 pounds. Americans eat on average nearly double that amount.

The World Health Organization, meanwhile, recommends 0.45 grams of protein per kilogram of (ideal) body weight every day. (Does this mean that Americans need more protein than other people do?) This translates to about 30 grams of protein per day for a healthy adult weighing 150 lbs.

The World Health Organization also points out that plant-based foods like vegetables, beans, nuts and grains also provide good sources of protein. The USDA seemingly neglects the fact that vegetables and grains also provide protein. These sources also have no saturated fats – something that even the new USDA program frowns upon. Plant-based proteins come in the form of amino acids and small peptides – the building blocks of protein. The body assimilates these isolated amino acids or small peptide groups of amino acids

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In all, the new USDA plate has been hailed as more practical and clear. While a plate is easier to relate to food, the previous pyramid was more difficult to understand, because people usually do not eat off of pyramids. The last version of the pyramid, unveiled in 2005, was even worse. this was spun onto its side in an attempt to show that people need more exercise.

Case Adams, PhD

Case Adams has a Ph.D. in Natural Health Sciences, is a California Naturopath and is Board Certified as an Alternative Medicine Practitioner, with clinical experience and diplomas in Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling, Homeopathy and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 27 books and numerous articles on print and online magazines. Contact: [email protected]

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