The history of government eating guidelines in the United States hasn’t always been in your body’s best interest. It wasn’t too long ago that doctors were recommending 8 servings of grains per day, low fat dairy products for protein and aspartame instead of honey.
The most recent USDA-recommended guidelines shows a plate consisting of the “five main food groups” with fruits, grains, veg, and protein portioned out into pretty equal quadrants. Dairy, the “fifth food group,” is pictured as a cup in the upper right hand corner, suggesting that dairy should be a slightly smaller portion of your meal, but nevertheless should be a part of every meal. Guidelines also suggest that only half of your grain consumption needs to be whole grains – the rest can be refined and processed. Um…
Obviously, government standards have yet to take several important points into consideration, the first being food sensitivities. With more than half the human population (about 65%) unable to properly digest lactose after infancy, consuming milk products several times per day could be a huge problem for many people.
Diets high in processed carbohydrates can lead to blood sugar dysregulation, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and inflammation.
A New Way to Look at Healthy Eating
Luckily, in 2011, the Harvard School of Public Health created a new eating guidelines they call the “Healthy Eating Plate.” Unlike the USDA’s version, Harvard’s plate was created by a team of nutrition experts based exclusively on the available science at the time and not influenced by political or commercial pressures from industry lobbyists.
After more than a decade studying nutrition science myself, it’s great to see something more in line with what Naturopathic and Functional Medicine Doctors recommend.
What’s On Your Healthy Plate?
Harvard’s version of MyPlate breaks down food groups into whole grains, healthy protein, vegetables, fruits, healthy oils, and water(!). That last one excited me. That’s right, people, water instead of cow’s milk!
So let’s break it down even further.
Whole grains tend to include more fiber and nutrients in general. More fiber will help to slow down the absorption of the starchy grain and dietary fiber lowers the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and GI dysfunction. Increasing fiber can also lower blood pressure and serum cholesterol, improve insulin sensitivity, and help protect against colon cancer.
Processed or refined grains, however act like sugar in the body, affecting blood glucose levels, increasing inflammation and increasing the incidence of heart disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Depending on your health history and goals, I recommend about 1/2-2 cups of whole grains per day.
Protein from high quality, grass-fed, pastured, organic animals is essential for muscle building, hormone regulation, and blood sugar regulation.
I recommend getting 3-6 oz. of protein at every meal, especially when you break your morning fast!
Limiting red meat isn’t for everyone, but I do encourage you to know your meat purveyor and purchase grassfed when possible, which contains a more robust nutrient profile, including a substantial amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which is essential for hormone regulation and brain and skin health.
As far as I’m concerned, vegetables should cover most of your plate for every meal! A mix of crunchy and leafy vegetables, along with some starchy vegetables could cover upwards of 75-80% of the plate, providing your body with essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. There is no real limit on vegetable consumption, so always err on the side of more veggies.
If you need a goal to shoot for, my nutritionist Mallory and I recommend aiming for 9 cups of vegetables per day -about 2-3 cups per meal. Learn more about working with a nutritionist with a free 10 minute phone call. Schedule here.
A wide variety of colorful, in-season fruits are great for a pop of color, a variety of beneficial antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. However, fruit also comes with fructose, so I have a couple of rules about fruit.
1) No fruit by itself. Always consume fruit with some healthy fats, like nuts, nut butters, avocado, or coconut cream.
2) Avoid fruit first thing in the morning. Protein and fat are the most important macronutrients upon waking. Eating protein and fat in the morning will ensure that blood sugar and hormones are regulated all day long. Fruit, on the other hand, can cause a blood sugar spike that can set you up for a blood sugar rollercoaster – no fun!
I would rename this “Healthy Fats” and include all of my favorites: nuts, seeds, olives, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, fatty fish, pastured lard and duck fat! For more on healthy fats, check this out!
I remember all to well sitting in nutrition classes and hearing my instructor preach about the evils of fats. And I remember my own fears about fat.
I convinced myself that I didn’t even like fat! I mean, who doesn’t like butter?
And I didn’t even realize that the lack of fat was wrecking my hormones!
It took me some time to come back around to the idea of eating healthy fats, but once I did…hello healthy hormones, happy libido and an optimally functioning brain!
Sounds good, right? It is.
I know it can be difficult to make dietary changes and to navigate the true science from the “fluff,” which is why I ask all my new patients to meet with my nutritionist to get a lot more support on their health journey. If you’re interesting in exploring how a nutritionist could benefit your health, schedule a free call with my clinic’s nutritionist and get some of your burning questions answered!
Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate encourages the consumption of water over other beverages like coffee, soda, juice, and milk, in fact limiting dairy to 1-2 servings per day.
I tell my patients to drink half their body weight in ounces every day. Mostly filtered water and herbal tea, but check it out – I also count soups and bone broth into my liquid intake! Score!