Good nutrition: beyond food pyramid models (part 2)

In recent years, several national governments have moved away from traditional food pyramid models to more accessible food “plates”. By clarifying daily nutritional requirements and supporting claims with detailed website information, the governments hope to counter some of the disturbing health trends within its population.

However, there are many alternatives to government-directed nutrition that may offer better guidelines for your specific health situation. One such nutritional plan is the Healthy Eating Plate presented by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

HSPH has been one of the U.S. government’s most vociferous critics when it comes to offering nutrition advice to its citizens. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that it released Healthy Eating Plate a mere three months after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s high-profile MyPlate launch.

Harvard offers five quick tips on its website for implementing Healthy Eating Plate in your life:

  1. Stay active: Physical exercise and regular movement is critical for weight control and balancing food (calorie) consumption. Find ways to incorporate thirty minutes of exercise every day, if nothing else.
  2. Follow a plant-based diet: Make half your food plate nutrition-rich fruits and vegetables (N.B. say no to potatoes!). Healthy plant oils (canola, olive) are the best cooking options. As far as your protein requirements, non-meat options like beans, nuts, seeds and tofu are preferred.
  3. Avoid red meat and processed meats: If you are a high-risk candidate for heart disease or diabetes, choose fish and chicken over beef, pork, or lamb. Bacon, cold cuts and hot dogs are being increasingly linked to colon cancer, so avoid them as much as possible. Two servings of red meat per week is a reasonable upper limit.
  4. Whole grains, if you must: Grains may not be necessary for a healthy diet, especially for those who suffer from Celiac disease or are otherwise gluten intolerant. That being said, whole grains are best, because they have a gentler effect on blood sugar and insulin levels. The so-called “white”, refined grains (e.g. white rice, white pasta, white bread) should be put aside in favour of “brown” or whole-grain alternatives.
  5. Choose water, coffee, or tea – not alcohol or sugary drinks: Water is the best life-giving liquid by far and can accompany any meal or snack. Soft drinks and especially caffeine-charged “energy drinks” are bad choices, because they offer “empty” calories that encourage weight gain – a precursor to heart disease, diabetes and chronic obesity. Alcohol consumption in moderation is acceptable, but not necessary for most. Limit milk and fruit juice consumption as well.

The Healthy Eating Plate is a mainstream approach to healthy eating that claims to be based on the latest nutrition science. It has many positive features, but people should still perform their due diligence before embarking on significant changes to their current diet. Consult your family physician and research the various government and private health websites for more detailed information.

In particular, people who have various intolerances, Celiac disease (anti-gluten) and or food allergies must be vigilant about food consumption at all times.

For further reading (Healthy Eating Plate and Healthy Eating Pyramid – What Should I Eat? – The Nutrition Source – Harvard School of Public Health)