For many of us who were used to eating a traditional American diet heavy in meat, carbs, and processed foods, the Choose My Plate model felt like a big change when it was developed in 2011. Choose My Plate originates from guidelines from the American Diabetes Association and was intended to replace the outdated, carb-heavy food pyramid. Dietitians often use the Choose My Plate as a model to help cancer survivors change their eating patterns. as it provides an easy rule of thumb to help us all get enough cancer-protective fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes onto our plates and into our bodies.
Since the Choose My Plate model was established, the American Institute for Cancer Research has developed its own eating model specifically designed for cancer survivors.
Choose My Plate recommends dividing your meals into:
- 20% Fresh fruits: When we talk about fruit, it’s whole fruit, not juice. Many juices remove the fiber, which lessens their nutritional value. Even juice that has the pulp retained has been processed and overall has less nutritional value. Frozen fruits are good too, as are fruits canned in water rather than heavy syrup. One cup of fresh fruit counts as a portion whereas ½ cup of dried fruit is a portion.
- 30% Non-starchy vegetables: Spinach, cabbage, kale, chard, broccoli, carrots, eggplant, zucchini, green beans, cauliflower and more cancer-busting veggies. In general, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables is considered to be a portion, whereas 2 cups of raw leafy greens can be considered a portion. These are nutrient dense foods that you can eat as much as you like.
- 25% Grains and starches: Rice, quinoa, couscous, and other grains, plus bread, pasta, beans, peas, potatoes, yams, and winter squash. Unless you have dietary restrictions, grains and grain products should preferably be whole grains. It’s important to note that there are certain starchy vegetables that belong in this group. Some vegetables, like peas and beans, have protein too, but if you’re eating them with meat or eggs they belong with their other starchy pals. Aim for making ½ your grains whole grains. The Whole Grain Council has great information regarding how to purchase whole grains in both the United States and Canada.
- 25% Proteins: Fish and chicken — about a 3 oz portion each; eggs, and for vegetarians: nuts and seeds, beans, tempeh and tofu.
- 1 Serving of dairy: 1 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: 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.
Each meal doesn’t have to meet the requirements of Choose My Plate, but it is a great guide for your daily intake as a whole. 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, for example.