Jun 3, 2011

Food Plate

The big news in the nutrition world is the changing of the Food Pyramid to the Choose My Plate model. It is all over social media with everyone weighing in on it. So of course, I'm jumping on that bandwagon.

The Good

-Easy to understand.
-Practical-gives visual representation of portions
-Half is fruit/veggies
-I actually like that it is labeled "protein" vs "meat" for people who are vegetarian/vegan

The Bad
-Where are the fats and sugars? Especially the healthy un/mono-saturated ones? The guidelines don't really differentiate b/t healthy fats and unhealthy fats.
-Lean protein? Low fat dairy? this is addressed in the guidelines, but not the plate icon.
-I think the serving sizes is ambiguous.
-I wish it addressed what NOT to eat more.
-It doesn't emphasize whole grains. And I think most people are counting cakes/cookies/chips as grains. 
-Do we need that much dairy? Calcium-yes. But you can get calcium from other sources. Should dairy count as a protein? 

Overall, it isn't bad. It is a start. I don't think this new icon will have a huge impact on the way people eat though, unfortunately. I wish I knew what would motivate everyone to make better choices. Right now, our nutrition as a country is so broken that even just getting people to eat like this plate, with its flaws, would make a huge impact. While I think it could be better, it is going to be a process of baby steps to fix our nation's health. It is aimed at the people with the vastly unhealthy lives, not regular people who have a basic understanding of nutrition. I thought most nutrition info was common sense and well known to all. That is not the case.

I just wish there was an answer. Bad nutrition seems so cyclical to me. Parents don't make healthy choices for themselves or the child. The child grows up eating processed, fatty foods and both gains a taste for these foods and a jacked up metabolism. The child becomes a parent and teaches their child the same thing. Somewhere, somehow we have to break that cycle. I don't think a new icon is going to change most peoples' eating patterns.

My school nutrition rotations were spent in Birmingham Public Schools-this is a very poor (financially-80-90% were on free/reduced lunches) school system populated by largely African American kids. It is the definition of an urban setting where kids aren't necessarily safe playing outside; kids live in an area with fewer parks and sidewalks; they are living in a food desert where the produce selection is terrible; and they honestly have not been exposed to nutrition knowledge or many nutritious foods-and those foods seem weird. School lunches are always under fire for being over processed, fries count as veggies, the meats aren't lean, too much pizza, etc. And this is true. But, when we served new salads with more and better veggies-the kids won't eat it. They have to have a certain number of veggies on their plate; they can't refuse them. When we tried different, non-starch veggies-the kids won't eat them. They would rather eat nothing and throw food away than eat some of these more nutritious items. So, yes, we should revamp school lunches, but if they aren't getting a healthy message at home it doesn't seem like it would make much of an impact. Not to even touch on how little money schools have for these meals.

As a dietitian, one of our major goals is to motivate people to make a change in their diet. Whether that is a gluten free, or a renal , or just a basic healthy diet, our job is to convince the patient to eat that way. It seems easy, but it is actually one of the most challenging aspects of this job. You would think telling someone "You are diabetic. Your blood sugar is 679. If you keep eating like you have been, you are going to be really sick and then die. The end." would be motivating, but apparently not based on the frequency of return patients. Many of my patients just thought diabetes/heart disease/early death were just inevitable. All their friends and family have died youngish from complications. That is just what happens in a person's life. They don't think they can change, or that the change would be worth it. I'm very interested in what that spark is, that convinces someone to buy into what you are saying and motivate themselves to do it.  How can I change your motivation from extrinsic (I have to do this b/c my MD/RD is making me) to intrinsic (I have to do this so that I can be healthy and watch my kids grow up.) What can we do? What can we say? What can we use to convince someone that they *have* to make changes? Dietitians do our best, but I have left patients' rooms knowing they aren't going to do anything I say.

So I'm glad there is a new, hopefully easy to interpret graphic. Will it change anything? We will have to see. I don't think the disconnect is that people don't know what to eat. They just would rather not eat the healthy foods. But, we have to start somewhere. And we have to start now. 

What are your thoughts? Love it or hate the plate? If you have made a change in your eating, what was your motivating factor? How did you move from contemplation to action? What do you think needs to be done to correct the terrifying health path we are currently on? 


ashley said...

I like the IDEA of the plate. I think it is easier to grasp the concept of proportions, but I definitely agree with your list of cons.

As for changing my diet, I grew up with meats and potatoes as the main focus. After moving out and going to college I survived off of cereal and quickly realized that I needed to broaden the range of food that I ate (and that it was high time I learned how to cook). The biggest change though (and motivation), came from the fact that I have two children who (I hope) look up to me and i want to set a good example. The other motivation is my husband. His grandmother died of diabetes, his dad has diabetes, and he says he had a family member (uncle?) who lost a foot due to diabetes. He eats healthier than his parents but still has a long way to go. I am slowly getting him used to healthier foods so that he actually likes it and hopefully he can avoid the same path some of his family members have gone.

As for correcting the health path we're on, I wouldn't be the person to say how to fix it as that's not my area of expertise.

jfit52 said...

I like the plate, but understand your concern. I actually used the plate as a guide when I made dinner last night. At the very least it is a visual reminder to me to add more fruits and vegetables to my diet.

Rose @ Eat, Drink, and Be Meiri said...

I think the plate is a start. It's going to be slow going, but, emphasizing that half your meal should be fruits and veggies is an excellent start. I mean *I* don't eat enough veggies, and I eat pretty healthy. I can't imagine how poor the fiber intake is on people who eat fast food every day. How do they poop????

Alison said...

This was really interesting to read. Like you say, there are a lot of positives to the plate. The main one though is its simplicity. That's what makes it accessible, easy to understand, and hence more likely to influence people's choices. A lot of people are likely to pick up on that simplicity as a weakness though too, and rightly so in some instances. Like the case you mention with dairy, for example. Like you say though, to highlight the more subtle and complex elements of healthy eating is to miss the point that including *any* fresh produce at all would be a major step for most people. I think in that sense the healthy living / blogging community has a rather skewed perspective and what it actually trying to be achieved with this. That's why it was so interesting to read this from a dietician's perspective - thanks!