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What the “Experts” Say…

We hear a lot about the creeds of beauty given to us by “the media,” and their effects on us, but there is not much public discourse on the standards of healthy eating given to us by so many sources, most prominently, the USDA.

We started in 1916 with “Food For Young Children,” the USDA’s first food guide, which classified food into five groups: cereals, vegetables and fruits, milk and meat, fats and fatty foods and sugars and sugary foods. Then, just a year later, came a 14-page pamphlet, “How to Select Food,” (which you can read here, if you’re interested ) and was geared towards helping families balance meals for babies. Then, in 1943, we got hit with “The Basic 7” food groups: milk and milk products; meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, peas and nuts; bread, flour and cereals; leafy green and yellow vegetables; potatoes and sweet potatoes; citrus, tomato, cabbage and salad greens; butter and margarine. Sounds complicated, right? It was. It also did not include serving sizes. Then again, in 1956 the USDA simmered it down to just “The Basic Four,” which suggested servings of milk, meat, fruits and vegetables and grain products. The guide did not change significantly again for the next 20 years. In 1979, the USDA came out with “The Hassle-Free Guide to a Better Diet,” which emphasized having fats, sweets, and alcohol in moderation. Just five years later, a collaborative effort of the American Red Cross and USDA yielded “Food Wheel,” featuring three distinct calorie levels, which was the basis for the Food Guide Pyramid eight years later. This is the image I am most familiar with, and was amended in 2005, with the MyPyramid Food Guidance System intended to simplify the 1992 version and separated oils into it’s own “band,” while also showing physical activity.
Just last year, we had the “MyPlate” thrust on us. This image is even further simplified and has left out some important nutritional information. For example, Tod Datz, from Harvard Science, writes,

“MyPlate does not tell consumers that whole grains are better for health than refined grains; its protein section offers no indication that some high-protein foods — fish, poultry, beans, nuts — are healthier than red meats and processed meats; it is silent on beneficial fats; it does not distinguish between potatoes and other vegetables; it recommends dairy at every meal, even though there is little evidence that high dairy intake protects against osteoporosis but substantial evidence that high intake can be harmful; and it says nothing about sugary drinks. Finally, the Healthy Eating Plate reminds people to stay active, an important factor in weight control, while MyPlate does not mention the importance of activity.”

Harvard’s nutrition experts at the School of Public Health (HSPH) in conjunction with colleagues at Harvard Health Publications have offered their own version, “The Healthy Eating Plate,” trying to address some of these issues (source ; read more here )

There are plenty of other systems from Western science, government programs, or self-help books to Traditional Chinese Medicine, family tradition, or hypnotherapy that can help us to balance and harmonize our eating patterns, but what many of them (particularly anything that is one-size-fits-all) fail to recognize, is that we are all each unique and have different (not “good” vs. “bad,”) body chemistry, different heritage, and preferences. Perhaps the best “expert” on diet is your body!

What does your Plate of Health look like?