When I was only 29 months old, I was featured on the front page of the Galveston Daily News as the fattest child in Galveston County. The whole county! In those days, a fat baby was considered a healthy baby. Unfortunately, we now know a fat baby is often not a healthy baby and more likely to be an unhealthy adult. In 2012, 1 in 3 children are obese. Mission Readiness, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization run by retired military leaders dedicated to investing in America’s youth, discovered that today, 27 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds, some 9 million, are too fat to meet the basic minimum standards required for military service.
I was very fortunate; I was able to change my exercise level, my diet, and ultimately my body size. Today, I’m at my ideal body weight. But that was not an accident. It took a conscious decision on my part to change my dietary habits – both what food choices I made and how much of it I ate. The US Department of Health has addressed America’s growing obesity epidemic by giving us a simple, objective way to look at the food we eat. It’s called MyPlate. Click here for my video on portion control and MyPlate.
It’s the image of a plate divided into 4 parts. Something as simple as knowing how much of which food to put on our plate has the potential to curb obesity, lower the rate of heart disease and diabetes, and improve our chances for a longer and healthier life.
MyPlate is much easier to understand than the Food Pyramid system, which it replaced. It’s much easier to use than the Ornish diet, the Atkins diet or the South Park diet. If we pay attention to MyPlate, we don’t have to consider any of these or any other dietary approaches or measure ounces of food. This new approach was released last year, and can be found at ChooseMyPlate.gov. These recommendations promote health, reduce the risk of chronic disease and represent an effort to decrease the obesity epidemic in the United States with improved nutrition and physical activity. You can find lots of great recipes in my cookbook Eat to Defeat Menopause.
The new version of the food pyramid is a very simple image of a plate divided into four parts. These four unequal quadrants represent vegetables, fruits, grains, and protein with a circle (representing the top view of a glass) off to the side to represent dairy. Basically, the plate is divided with half of the plate containing fruits and vegetables. One of the two remaining quadrants contains grains (primarily whole grains) such as rice, bread or cereal, and the final quadrant contains proteins including meat, fish, poultry, beans, soy or eggs.
MyPlate primarily follows the Mediterranean diet. That diet is high in legumes, grains, nuts, fish, fruits, and vegetables but is low in dairy and red meats. I was recently able to visit the Pompeii exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Science, and was pleasantly surprised to find that in 79 A.D., the diet we are discovering today was already very well established. Another observation that was present in 79 A.D. that we can also learn from today was the fact that the size of a plate was much smaller than the ones we eat from in most kitchens in 2012. So cleaning your plate meant you were eating a lot fewer calories.
This diet is very high in monounsaturated fatty acids and low in saturated fatty acids. Scientists analyzed 12 pre-existing scientific studies and combined their total results. This meta-analysis study, involving over 1.5 million people, showed that the more one adhered to a Mediterranean-type diet the lower the incidence of death and cancer. Of course, My Plate alone won’t solve the problem of obesity and rising rates of obesity and heart disease. But the plate is one more step in carrying out the message that includes encouraging people to enjoy your food but eat less, switch to fat-free or low-fat milk, choose foods lower in sodium, make at least half your grains whole grains and drink water instead of sugary drinks. It’s time to make MyPlate your plate.