Eating right is a topic that seems to be everywhere – on the cover of magazines, talk shows, food shows, sitcoms, infomercials, the tips of our tongues. Everyone has a different idea of what works, which type of exercise is the best, what types of foods will keep your heart healthy, your bones strong, your energy up. It’s exhausting trying to sort through it all.
The key that all nutrition professionals can agree upon is that eating healthy and having a balanced diet is the most important part of any diet. Fads come and go, but healthy eating habits will stay with you, keeping you healthier longer. And as far as loosing weight goes, establishing healthy eating habits is the most essential element.
When talking about having a balanced diet, most adults will think about the Food Guide Pyramid that was introduced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1992. The original Pyramid was split up in levels: bread, cereal, rice, and pasta at the bottom (6-11 servings); fruits (2-4 servings) and vegetables (3-5 servings) on the next level up; milk, yogurt, and cheese (2-3 servings) and meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts (2-3 servings) in the second spot from the top, and fats, oils, and sweets occupying the top (and smallest) spot, with a note to “use sparingly.”
There were some that disagreed with the set-up of this Pyramid, arguing that certain foods were in the wrong order of importance (for example, that veggies should be at the bottom of the Pyramid instead of whole grains, since vegetables have a lower glycemic load). So, in 2005 the USDA updated the pyramid, switching from horizontal levels to diagonal sections, removing the hierarchy look to it. They also added an image of a person walking up some steps on the side of the Pyramid to represent physical activity, and changed from measuring portions in “servings” to cups and ounces (making it easier to figure out just how much a “serving” was).
In June of 2011, the USDA left the Food Pyramid behind, switching to a new nutrition guide called MyPlate. MyPlate is something that’s more recognizable in relation to eating than a pyramid – it’s a plate and cup divided into five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. On the USDA’s MyPlate website, www.choosemyplate.gov, there is information on each of the food groups, including a break-down for each one including what’s included in each group, what constitutes a cup, how much is needed, what health benefits each one has, and tips to help you eat each one.
For example, for vegetables, they show how commonly eaten vegetables are split into groups – dark green, starchy, red & orange, beans and peas, and other vegetables. (There’s a subsection called “Beans and Peas are Unique Foods,” too.) They tell you to make half of your plate vegetables, and list a great number of health benefits from them. The site also lists some tips to help you eat your veggies, such as: buy fresh vegetables in season, try a variety of vegetables to keep meals interesting, try preparing them different ways, etc.
The USDA food guides may have changed over the years, but they are working to help the American public know what foods are best for them. And with the MyPlate website, everyone can see what their plates should look like so they can lead a healthy, active lifestyle.