I know you are as excited as I am by this week’s introduction of MyPlate- the new food guide developed by the USDA and launched by First Lady Michelle Obama. In case you missed the press release or the video or the evening news, here is what the First Lady had to say about the new icon:
“This is a quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods that we’re eating and as a mom, I can already tell how much this is going to help parents across the country,” the First Lady shared.
“When mom or dad comes home from a long day of work, we’re already asked to be a chef, a referee, a cleaning crew. So it’s tough to be a nutritionist, too. But we do have time to take a look at our kids’ plates. As long as they’re half full of fruits and vegetables, and paired with lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, we’re golden.”
That’s how easy it is, she added.
Call me crazy, but if understanding our nutritional needs was truly easy 67% of Okies would not be deemed “overweight or obese” by the CDC. And with apologies to the First Lady, I have a few concerns about her statement and even more about the plate icon:
First, I don’t agree that parents need a reminder that we should be eating more vegetables and fruits. We’ve been touting the powers of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains for generations. The USDA guidelines were first printed in 1894. Most of us have grown up with several versions of nutrition guidelines: federal law requires them to be revised every five years (love to know how much that costs taxpayers). Each new icon, each new set of guidelines, each new printing of handbooks and posters has reminded us to eat more vegetables and fruits, small amounts of protein, whole grains, and dairy products. Each has come with an admonition to eat fewer sweets and fats. I was required to memorize the food guidelines in high school home economics class! My mother, raised in the backwoods in the forties, knew enough about nutrition to tell me that vegetables and fruits were good for me. Have the parents we’re “helping” with the new icon been living under a rock?? I don’t think so. We know what we should eat…we just don’t do it.
Second, I don’t think a lot of parents are looking at their child’s plate. I don’t have children at home anymore, but I see, hear, and interact with at least 100+ of them each and every day. I’m with them at breakfast and lunch. I listen to conversations between them and their parents. I talk to them about what they do at home. So I can tell you without a doubt that the children in our area eat at least one third of their meals from a bag or box, NOT a plate. Doughnuts from the bakery, chicken nuggets from the arches, and trendy little lunches from the grocery store are not going to follow the My Plate guidelines.
Okay, so let’s talk about the My Plate icon. It is a simple plate graph showing that half of your plate should contain vegetables and fruits and the other half grains and protein. There is also a glass symbol representing dairy. Below the icon are these tips:
Enjoy your food, but eat less.
Avoid oversize portions.
Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
Switch to fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1 percent) milk.
Make at least half your grains whole grains.
Compare sodium in soups, breads and frozen meals, and choose foods with lower numbers.
Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
Anyone notice a glaring absence?? Look again, I’ll wait.
That’s right! There are NO sugars or fats on the chart. None, zilch, nada. You have to scroll down on the website to “oils” or “empty calories” to find the scoop on fats and sugars. And just listen to the earth shattering words of wisdom you’ll find there: “A small amount of empty calories is okay, but most people eat far more than is healthy. It is important to limit empty calories to the amount that fits your calorie and nutrient needs. You can lower your intake by eating and drinking foods and beverages containing empty calories less often or by decreasing the amount you eat or drink.” Wonderful ideas! Now I AM golden!!
And let’s take a closer look at one of the food groups, vegetables. When you click on the icon for more information you get this: Any vegetable or 100% vegetable juice counts as a member of the Vegetable Group. Vegetables may be raw or cooked; fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated; and may be whole, cut-up, or mashed. That is followed by a list of vegetables in different categories and links for more detailed information. So if you load up your plate with veggies you are eating healthy, right? Maybe… if they are fresh and you eat a variety of them each week and they are mostly raw or steamed without butter or salt. The other options aren’t quite as certain. I checked the two packages of frozen Brussels sprouts that are in my freezer. One has 0g. fat and 15mg sodium per serving. The other contains 1.5g fat and 90mg sodium per serving because it has butter sauce. I also checked two cans of “traditional refried beans” that I recently bought (one is my favorite brand, the other was on sale). One has .05g of fat and 580mg of sodium and the other has 2.5g of fat and 540mg of sodium. And how about that “mashed” option? Are we mashing our potatoes or whatever with butter? Margarine? Milk? Cream? Do French fries count as a vegetable?
My point is that like anything else the truth is in the details. The plate icon is a pretty symbol. It may even be a good reminder for some people. But the real answers to real nutrition questions will always involve a lot of reading and decision making. Even the user-friendly My Plate website requires a lot of clicking and reading to follow the path to specific information.
I want to tell the First Lady that I don’t think people will pay any more or less attention to this pretty plate than they have to previous guidelines. And since I’m already up here on the box, here are my own theories about why so many of us are so fat:
- We teach our children, while they are still in diapers, that food is a reward for good behavior. Certain foods are associated with special occasions, events, and actions. Most of these foods are pretty and sweet.
- We take our children to fast food franchises while they are still developing their food tastes and habits and then wonder why they become addicted to fat and salt.
- Most of what we eat is produced and packaged without our consent or control. It is made with chemicals and ingredients we don’t need or want. We need to spend more time telling food manufacturers about the changes that are needed in our food supply!
- Most restaurants serve very few vegetables and serve other foods in portions that would have embarrassed our grandparents. No one needs to eat as much as they serve, so why do we allow them to serve it and charge us for it?
- Schools, restaurants, and even some moms ruin vegetables by overcooking them. I’m surprised any child would touch broccoli after seeing and tasting the way some people cook it! And to add insult to injury we teach children to dip their veggies in some sort of dressing or sauce.
- We start our children on the road to diabetes, heart disease, and obesity with that first can of soda, usually before they are three years old. Soda is the bane of our existence and I battled my own addiction to it for years. I’ve been off the liquid candy for over a year and I won’t go back.
I did find an interesting educational site that I think provides much clearer and more positive visual support for teaching nutrition. I can’t wait to see what they do with the plate icon- they have promised a whole new line of support materials. Go visit Learning Zone Xpress and tell me what you think.
Well, I’ve been on the soapbox for over 1,200 words and that is usually my limit so I don’t risk boring you. I urge you as always to take a look at this issue for yourself and make up your own mind. I’ve certainly given you a piece of mine.
Have a nutritional day!