Picture Perfect Nutrition in 5 Minutes: Food Plates to Use

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The field of nutrition science is decades old and thousands of research studies have been performed and analyzed in order to reach reasonable recommendations for public health. Despite this, much confusion exists as to healthy eating patterns to follow.

When I lecture to the public, I find it effective to show a series of food plates introduced by medical or scientific bodies that have been proposed as models for healthy choices. A number of new food plates have been published already in 2019. With the philosophy that “a picture is worth a thousand words”, here are the food plates I present to the public and the organizations that published them.

1) Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine 2009

The colorful, user-friendly Power Plate was introduced in 2009 by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicineto stand in contrast to the Food Pyramid being promoted by the USDA since 1991. It was based on nutrition research showing that plant-based foods are the most nutrient-dense and help prevent chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. The graphic depicts a plate divided into four food groups: fruits, grains, legumes, and vegetables. There were no confusing portion sizes and food hierarchies to follow; the Power Plate simply asked people to eat a variety of all four food groups each day.

2) Choose My Plate (USDA) 2011

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MyPlate is the current nutrition guide published by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, a food circle depicting a place setting with a plate and glass divided into five food groups. It replaced the USDA’s MyPyramid guide on June 2, 2011, ending 19 years of USDA food pyramid diagrams. The Choose My Plate, clearly patterned after the plant version above, was retained in the current 2015–2020 guidelines.

3) Harvard Healthy Eating Plate 2011

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The Healthy Eating Plate, created by nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health and editors at Harvard Health Publications, was designed to address deficiencies in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s MyPlate above. The Healthy Eating Plate provides detailed guidance, in a simple format, to help people make the best eating choices. The main message of the Healthy Eating Plate was to focus on diet quality. The type of carbohydrate in the diet was more important than the amount of carbohydrate in the diet, because some sources of carbohydrate — like vegetables (other than potatoes), fruits, whole grains, and beans — are healthier than others. The Healthy Eating Plate also advised consumers to avoid sugary beverages, a major source of calories — usually with little nutritional value — in the American diet. The Healthy Eating Plate encourages consumers to use healthy oils, and it does not set a maximum on the percentage of calories people should get each day from healthy sources of fat. In this way, the Healthy Eating Plate recommends the opposite of the low-fat message promoted for decades by the USDA.

4) EAT-LancetPlanetary Diet 2019

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Food systems have the potential to nurture human health and support environmental sustainability, however our current trajectories threaten both. The EAT–Lancet Commissionaddresses the need to feed a growing global population a healthy diet while also defining sustainable food systems that will minimize damage to our planet. The commission described a universal healthy reference diet, based on an increase in consumption of healthy foods (such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts), and a decrease in consumption of unhealthy foods (such as red meat, sugar, and refined grains) that would provide major health benefits, and also increase the likelihood of attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals. This is set against the backdrop of defined scientific boundaries that would ensure a safe operating space within six Earth systems, towards sustaining a healthy planet.

5) Australian Government Food Plate 2019

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Crafted to promote a healthy lifestyle and cut the risk of chronic diseases (which are often fuelled by diet choices), the Australian Dietary Guidelineswere written by a panel of independent experts overseen by the National Health and Medicine Research Council, and based on the most robust nutrition science we have — citing more than 1100 scientific papers. They boil down into five guidelines:

Guideline 1: To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet your energy needs.

Guideline 2: Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from the five food groups every day, and drink plenty of water.

Those five food groups are what nutritionists call “core foods”, because eating them provides the nutrients we require to live well. They are:

· Vegetables and legumes/beans. Adults are advised to eat 5–6 serves of these a day, where a serve is equal to about 75g (100–350kj/25–85 calories) — examples include half a cup of cooked green or orange vegetables, beans, peas, lentils or sweetcorn; a cup of green leafy veg; half a medium potato; or a medium tomato.

· Fruit: Two serves a day, where one serve is about 150g (350kj/85 calories) — but note one serve of fruit isn’t always equal to one piece of fruit. Think a medium banana, apple, orange or pear; or two small apricots, kiwis or plums; or a cup of diced fruit. (Fruit juice and dried fruit are allowed, but only occasionally — whole fruit is preferred.)

· Grain-based foods, preferably whole grain or high-fiber sources: 4–6 serves a day, where one serve is equal to 500kj (120 calories). That’s about one slice of bread, half a cup of cooked rice, pasta or similar food, or a quarter-cup of muesli, among others.

· Lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans. Eat 2–3 serves a day, where one serve is 500–600kj (120–145 calories). That’s anything from 65–100g of meat, fish or chicken; two eggs; 170g tofu; or 30g nuts, which is about a handful.

· Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or plant alternatives, mostly from reduced-fat sources: 2.5 to 4 serves a day, where one serve is 500–600kj (120–145 calories).

6) Canada’s Healthy Eating Pattern 2019

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Canada’s Healthy Eating Pattern was developed as a resource for all of its citizens. The guidelines are split up into three main sections — foundations for healthy eating, foods and beverages that undermine healthy eating, and the importance of food skills. When it comes to eating advice, the guide simply says to consume produce, whole grains, and protein foods regularly, with most of the protein being friendly for vegetarians and vegans. It also says to avoid saturated fat by consuming unsaturated sources, which are mostly plant-based foods or fish. And it never mentions dairy consumption.

It was designed to provide:

  • The objective of the healthy eating pattern is to provide more specific guidance on the recommended amounts and types of foods as well as life stage guidance (such as recommendations for young children and seniors).
  • The intended audience is also health professionals and policy makers.
  • The healthy eating pattern can be used as an additional resource for developing procurement policies in institutions, such as long-term care facilities and hospital settings.

Overall, although I eat from a food plate as taught by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, I find that the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate has the biggest impact in public lectures and patient education.

All the plates have in common an emphasis on predominantly plant food choices, varied and whole, with water being the main beverage. With that, the health of the populace and the planet would flourish.

Written by

Professor of Cardiology, Summa cum Laude grad, Kahn Center for Longevity and GreenSpace Cafe. www.drjoelkahn.com @drjkahn. Author The Plant Based Solution NEW

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