Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) retired the familiar MyPyramid American food guide and replaced it with a new icon, MyPlate. The plate, a much more common sense and helpful visual than the pyramid, is divided into four sections of similar size, two of which are filled with vegetables and fruits, the third section contains grains, while the fourth is for protein. Beside the plate is an image of a cup designed to represent the recommended portion of dairy products.
As a registered dietitian, I believe the plate is a sensible representation because it visually emphasizes meals and what they should include. MyPlate focuses on including more vegetables and fruit, and the importance of eating protein at every meal. It also demonstrates that carbohydrates such as breads, grains and pasta should not comprise the majority of your calories. Portion sizes are illustrated so you can easily see how to apportion the food on your plate appropriately to get the nutrients you need.
So what does MyPlate have to do with My Heart?
According to the National Vital Statistics Report, 2009, more than 1 out of 4 deaths in Mississippi is due to heart disease. (In 2006, heart disease caused 28.3% of all deaths in our state.) When you look at the issue from a national perspective, someone in America dies every 37 seconds from some form of cardiovascular disease.
If you’re like most people, you think that heart disease is a problem for older folks. But we all should be conscious of the risk it poses. While it is true that heart disease is not a major cause of death among children and teenagers, poor nutrition and habits of physical inactivity developed during adolescence can set the stage for heart disease later in life. No matter our ages, we can significantly lower our odds of getting heart disease by changing or controlling the risk factors.
The American Heart Association recognizes that at the “heart” of good health is good nutrition. Proper nutrition can support the first three risk factors, by lowering blood pressure, reducing bad cholesterol and helping to control blood sugar. Most of us know that an improper diet can increase our heart disease risks, but it’s often tough to change our eating habits. Whether you have years of unhealthy eating under your belt (literally and figuratively), or just want to fine-tune your diet, the MyPlate icon can help you make the adjustments that can lead to a more balanced diet, and ultimately, better health. Small changes to your plate can add up to hearty results.
Pattern your plate after MyPlate
First take an inventory of your plate and compare it to the MyPlate. Are all the sections there? Which one(s) are missing? Are any of the section(s) taking up more space than recommended?
Start by correcting the obvious. Missing vegetables? Add a serving at lunch and another at dinner. No fruit in sight? Substitute fruit as a midday snack or dessert. Protein overload? Lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, and egg whites are some of your best sources of protein. Legumes (beans, peas and lentils) are also good sources of protein and contain less fat and no cholesterol, making them good substitutes for meat.
Did you forget about your dairy? Nutrient-rich low-fat and fat-free dairy products supply four of the seven nutrients adults fall short on- calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamin A- and three of the five nutrients kids most frequently are missing – calcium, potassium, and magnesium – as well as protein and vitamin D. Families can add milk as a beverage, enjoy cheese as a topping, or perhaps include yogurt with fruit as a dessert.
Visit ChooseMyPlate.gov for a variety of great tools to help you put the plate into action. For example, you can type in a food name – from apple to zucchini – for quick, helpful breakdowns of the nutritional information. There are 13 entries in the apple category, so you’ll find info on everything from the plain fruit to apple pie to a Waldorf salad.
You can use MyPlate to help plan healthy menus for the whole family.
No matter how your plate stacks up, we all need to be more aware of the food groups we are missing or slighting and include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy every day. When followed carefully, MyPlate the USDA’s new user-friendly food guide icon, can help us build happy, and healthy hearts for ourselves and our families.