The concept of Choose My Plate shouldn’t be news, but for many of us who are used to eating a traditional American diet heavy in meat, carbs, and processed foods it may be. A replacement for the outdated carb-heavy food pyramid, it originated from guidelines from the American Diabetes Association. Nutritionists have been using it to help cancer survivors to eat more healthily for years, which is where we first came across it. It provides an easy rule of thumb that helps us get enough cancer-protective fresh fruits and vegetables onto our plates and into our bodies for a healthy survivorship, and maybe lose a pound or two while we’re at it. It makes good sense, good eating, and is pretty user friendly. They recommend dividing your meals into:
- 20% Fresh fruits. When we talk about fruit, it’s whole fruit, not juice. Juice ends up being just sugar. Frozen fruits are good too, as are fruits canned in fruit juice rather than heavy syrup. Go easy on dried fruits. One cup of fruit counts as a portion. Go easy on dried fruit as a serving is only 1/2 cup, half that of fresh fruit, so eat them sprinkled on salads rather than by the handful.
- 30% Fresh non-starchy vegetables: spinach, cabbage, kale, chard, broccoli, carrots, eggplant, zucchini, green beans, cauliflower and the gang. In general, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens can be considered as 1 cup portion of vegetables. These are low calorie, nutrient dense foods that you can eat as much of as you like. Don’t forget to add in any fat or dairy you use to cook them.
- 25% grains and starches: rice and other grains, bread, pasta, beans, peas, potatoes, yams, winter squash. Unless you have dietary restrictions, grains and grain products should preferably be whole grains. Note the vegetables that belong with the starches! Some, like peas and beans, have protein too, but if you’re eating them with meat or eggs they belong with their other starchy pals.
- 25% proteins: fish and chicken — about a 3 oz portion each; eggs, and for vegetarians chow down on nuts, beans, tempeh and tofu.
- 1 serving of dairy: which is a cup of reduced fat milk or 2 ounces of cheese. Go for plain unsweetened low fat dairy products. You can add fresh fruit to yogurt to sweeten it.
- About 30% of total calories can come from healthy fats: from olive oil, nuts, avocados and oily fish like salmon. Bear this in mind when you include dairy too.
You can use the plate anyway that works for you either as a template for every meal or as a way to make your whole day’s eating follow the plate. For example, here’s what a day could look like:
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with fresh fruit and plain low fat yogurt and some toasted nuts
- Lunch: Salad of dark leafy greens and vegetables with small piece of grilled chicken
- Dinner: A small piece of poached or baked salmon, sautéed green beans and tomatoes, salad greens, some roasted squash.
Breakfast and lunch together roughly balance out to My Plate, while dinner follows it (yes, tomatoes are fruit!). If you find yourself eating a carb-rich meal, you can make up for it by eating mostly non-starchy veggies and maybe some lean protein at your next meal. It’s not that hard!
Take a stand for your health and choose My Plate!