Planning Your Meal with the Help of a Plate

If you’ve ever looked into improving your diet, you have probably run into the MyPlate graphic put out by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). We generally accept the MyPlate plan as the standard when thinking of recommended food groups and servings, but is it really the best option? Are there any alternatives that still provide proper nutrition without venturing into the realm of fad dieting? For those interested, Harvard School of Public Health has put out a “Healthy Eating Plate” graphic, which is similar to MyPlate in its applicability, but offers an alternative which some believe may be more relevant when it comes planning a meal with optimum health in mind.

Harvard’s “Healthy Eating Plate” 

Harvard's Healthy Eating Plate
Copyright © 2011, Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Plate, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, www.thenutritionsource.org, and Harvard Health Publications, health.harvard.edu.

 

Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate looks almost identical to the USDA’s  MyPlate, but Harvard aims to help the public by highlighting a few things that MyPlate doesn’t.  For example, the “Healthy Eating Plate” had added reminders to drink enough water, eat leaner proteins, and get exercise.  This plate is a great tool for anyone to use because it emphasizes parts of a healthy diet that are often overlooked, such as consuming healthy oils.  Additionally, the “Plate” explains healthy choices in each food group to aid users.  While Harvard’s “Plate”  is simple and clear, it’s not particularly attractive to look at, nor is it interactive.  Harvard’s biggest claim to fame is that its graphic is not funded by any commercial or political agenda, which means it is less inclined to give biased recommendations.

USDA’s MyPlate

MyPlate

The USDA’s MyPlate is probably slightly better known than the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate.  It too is easy to use and includes recommendations for fruits, vegetables, dairy, protein, and grains.  The graphic itself does not differentiate between healthy or unhealthy options for each category, but the website and associated online program as a whole does expand on these concepts in great detail. Along with convenient tracking tools that allow users to track their diets and receive recommendations, the USDA provides users with a wealth of resources that may help them better tackle their healthy eating goals. These resources may be of particular advantage to those with children who need simple images and ideas to get started. Unfortunately, MyPlate can’t escape the controversies associated with the USDA.  Some question its affiliation with organizations like the Dairy Council and the potential biases present from such affiliations. some do question whether the recommendations given are biased due to its affiliation with big names like the Dairy Council backing up its use.

In the end, both images provides very basic nutritional advice for anyone looking to improve his or her diet.  Regardless of which you choose to use, if any, remember to use these symbols as visual reminders to stick to a healthy, well-balanced diet. For more advanced nutrition education and meal planning ideas, consider meeting with a registered dietitian to determine a unique plan just for you.

Do you use either graphic for planning your meals?  Tell us about it in the comments. 

 

Great Veggie Challenge Day #7: The Benefit of Adding Any Sort of Veggie to Your Day

VegetablesWant to hear something crazy? Only a little over a third of US adults eat the recommended serving amount of vegetables daily! This is a real shame because vegetables have some pretty amazing benefits to offer. So if you are one of those people struggling to eat enough vegetables on a regular basis or simply need a good reminder of why veggies are so important,  read on!

Vegetables help prevent disease. Heart disease is one of our biggest health concerns as a country, so preventing it is a definite priority. Luckily, one of the best preventative tools can be found at the local supermarket. Vegetables are naturally low in saturated fat, which can contribute to plaque buildup in the arteries. Additionally, many veggies are full of fiber, which can help lower cholesterol as well.

Vegetables also contain phytochemicals, special compounds that can help prevent cell damage and reduce cancer risk.

Vegetables are nutrient dense. Vegetables are relatively low in calorie and typically contain large amounts and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. For example, sweet red pepper has about 46 calories per serving, but is loaded with vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and folate. This means that when you eat vegetables, you can get much more bang for your buck! Swapping out chips or other snack foods for a serving of vegetables is a great way to get extra nutrients and save a few extra calories for later.

Vegetables are naturally low in fat. Since approximately 25% of Americans eat too much fat, this is important. As we already know, consuming excessive amounts of fat can contribute to obesity, which – no pun intended – is another growing issue. While the rest of the US looks for quick fix fat loss remedies, you can help fight the trend simply by visiting the produce section. Just be careful about how you prepare the veggies you choose. Frying vegetables or loading them up with a creamy dressing can still put you over your recommended fat allotment for the day.

With these health benefits in mind, keep challenging yourself to add one or two new vegetables to your plate daily.

What’s your favorite vegetable? Have you tried anything new recently? 

The Pros & Cons of the Paleo Diet

BerriesLet’s get real about the Paleo diet.  It’s a big trend now:  some people SWEAR by it: that it cuts bloating, helps them lose weight, and transforms the way they see food.  But does it really work? Should we really be eating like we did thousands of years ago?  Let’s break it down:

What is it?

Essentially, the Paleo diet is based off of the idea that we should be eating similarly to our caveman ancestors.  It centers around the theory that our bodies haven’t evolved as quickly as our agricultural technology, and therefore we are unable to digest processed foods such as grains, legumes, and dairy.  It’s believed that this inability to digest these foods properly causes our chronic diseases.

What can I eat?

The foods approved by the Paleo diet include: meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, vegetables, fruits, roots, and nuts. Basically, if it used to be hunted and/or gathered, you’re good to go.  The off-limits foods are grains, flours, dairy, legumes, sugar, and salt.

The Pros:

On one hand, this diet promotes some seriously clean eating habits.  All processed foods are out, so you’ll be consuming nutrient dense foods. This diet also promotes more vegetable and fruit consumption than the average American diet, which is great news in light of the fact that most adults don’t meet their recommended 5-6 servings a day. Its also a very satisfying meal plan thanks to its emphasis on higher protein- and fat-containing foods.

The Cons:

While there are definitely some benefits, the Paleo diet can be a bit unbalanced.  Many of the food options contain fewer carbohydrates and more fat than recommended.  Don’t forget-we need carbohydrates for most of our important bodily functions!  Also, cutting out whole grains, legumes, and dairy completely could cause nutrient deficiencies if you’re not planning carefully.  Lastly, it’s not always practical.  It can be costly to find the most natural food options in our modern convenience age, and it’s a challenge to maintain such strict dietary regulations over a long period of time.

Remember- before you adopt ANY diet, make sure you speak to your doctor or a dietitian to make sure you’re getting the proper nutrients, especially if you’re going to be cutting out a lot of foods.

Would you ever consider going Paleo?  Do you have any tasty Paleo recipes you’d like to share?

Love Your Food Day #5: A Positive Atmosphere for Positive Eating

We’re so excited that you’ve decided to join us for our Love Your Food series! If you need to catch up on days 1-4, you can do so here.

There is an awesome new Weight Watchers ad in which Jennifer Hudson says something along the lines of, ‘My diet works because it understands that I am human, and sometimes I enjoy a double cheese pizza.’  I LOVE this commercial because it stresses the most important part of eating healthy and diet maintenance: a positive atmosphere.

Red Hearts

Eating well is a process.  Even if you love it, it can sometimes be a challenge.  The best place to start is the atmosphere around you!  Here are some tips on how to keep your atmosphere positive so that you can start, or continue, on the road to healthy eating.

Eat in a calm place. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but eating in a relaxing, quiet environment can make a difference both mentally and physically.  First, the more relaxed you are the more inclined you are to eat slowly, which is great for digestion and satiety.  Also, when you feel calm during your meals you’re more inclined to associate meal time with positivity.  This is great news for you and your family, especially if you’re trying to introduce new, healthy foods into your diet!  To help create a calm atmosphere, keep the TV off during meal time, allow yourself at least 30 minutes to eat your meal, and keep mealtime conversation neutral and friendly.

Surround yourself with foods you LOVE. A lot of people turn away from eating healthy because the foods they have tried or heard about don’t look, sound, or taste appealing to them.  Forcing yourself to eat something simply because it’s “healthy” will make healthy food seem like a chore.  When you’re trying to eat well, browse recipes and see what sounds good to you.  Don’t like spinach?  Search for a veggie you’ll like better.  Cook meals you want to eat, not meals you feel you have to eat.  Not only will your kitchen become a place you love to be in, but you’ll be excited to try your next meal!

Allow yourself to be human! This can’t be stressed enough.  It’s impossible to be perfect every day.  And let’s face it, it’s pretty boring!  It’s okay to let yourself enjoy things like birthday cakes and restaurants, and it’s okay to fall off the wagon-as long as you get back on again!  If you allow yourself to forgive the times you accidentally ate the whole bag of chips (we’ve all been there!), you’ll be much happier with yourself and your accomplishments and more likely to continue on the right path.  Keep yourself in a positive mindset by writing or saying one awesome and healthy accomplishment you’ve made each day!  You’ll be focused on your successes instead of any setbacks, which means you’ll be much more likely to stick to your goals.

Day 5 Homework: Find your brag moment! Write down or say out loud one healthy accomplishment you have made today.

 

Fun Fitness Ideas for the Super Bowl

Football GameOften we approach the Super Bowl with ideas on how to make our food healthier – like switching from chips to veggies when we’re looking for something to dip.  While this is a great idea, it’s also super important to think of ways to keep active on game day, especially since recent studies have shown that sitting for prolonged periods of time has been linked to conditions such as high blood pressure, higher cholesterol, and excess body fat.  So,  if you’re wondering how you’re going to get in your 30 minutes of exercise on game day, look no further.  Here are a few fun fitness ideas for the Super Bowl that will get you moving and allow you to still enjoy the time you have with your friends, family, and favorite sports teams.

Touch Football Half-time game

During half-time, enjoy a mini touch football game with your family or friends to increase your heart rate while also keeping you in the game day spirit.  On average, playing touch football for an hour burns around 403 calories!  While the halftime show isn’t quite that long, you’ll still be getting in a decent amount of running around.  If you’re really into Beyonce and don’t want to miss her performance this year, throw a dance party during the halftime show instead!  Tighten up that core and enjoy the music while you burn a few calories!

Commercial fitness challenge

Super Bowl commercials are legendary (and frequent), so why not use them to your advantage?  Gather up your friends or family and have mini-fitness competitions based on the commercials playing.  For example, if a car commercial comes on, challenge each other to a sit-up contest.  If a beer commercial comes on, do a bicep curl competition with your full (and unopened!) beer cans.  You can make these challenges as hard or as easy as you’d like, and even have prizes for the winners!  With how many commercials there are during the big game, you’ll get a pretty decent workout and you won’t have to sit bored through the same ads multiple times.

The Victory Lap

If you’ve got a friendly bet going against a friend or family member over which team will win this year, why not make the wager fitness related?  If your team wins, you get to take a victory lap (or two, or ten) around your street.  Not a big fan of running around?  Switch it up and make the loser take the laps!  Either way, someone is going to be getting some cardio.  Perhaps the adrenaline rush that comes with a big victory will inspire you to run even further than you expected!

These are just some ways that you can incorporate fitness into your game day this year.  Combine this with your healthier food options and you’ll be all set for a happier, healthier Super Bowl!

What are some other ways you like to make healthy choices during the Super Bowl?