Friday, June 3, 2011

The new USDA Nutrition Plate, and my Nutrition Plate

This is the new face of USDA recommendations (link from The Consumerist):

It's meant to replace the food pyramid, which I loathe. (And so should anyone who is not making a ton of money off agribusiness.)

So, how did they do? Is it an improvement? I'd say it is definitely an improvement, though they're still missing the mark by a lot.

How it is better:
  • I like that they have abandoned the notion of a pyramid. A pyramid implies that there is some kind of base (most unfortunately, grains and starches). That is not necessary. I might eat more veggies than meat, someone else might eat more meat than veggies, and heck, the Katavans ate more tubers and fruits than anything else. All are healthy options. Having a pyramid implies that ratios are the most important thing, when instead food quality and the absence of gut irritating and inflammatory foods is key.
  • I have to admit, I really like the idea of a plate. It sends the message that you are sitting down and enjoying a meal, not rushing to eat something out of a box or wrapper. And the divided plate suggests a more meat/potatoes/veggie approach, which is a huge step in the right direction from the giant bowl of pasta with low-fat sauce on top and no protein to be seen. There is something nurturing about the plate, about taking the time to put your food on a plate and take care with what it looks like.
  • Protein gets some love. Not nearly enough! But at least they're calling out the need for protein.
  • Grains have gotten smaller. They should be gone, but it's a huge step in the right direction, as it treats them as simply a component and not the foundation of a good diet. (Still wrong, but it's easier to cut out a component than a foundation, right?)
  • Dairy is on the side. Dairy causes a ton of problems for a lot of people, especially the low-fat highly-processed (cheap to produce) nonsense they recommend. But there can be a place for high-fat dairy for many people - things like butter/cream, raw whole milk, unpasteurized cheeses, and cultured high-fat, no-added-sugar yogurt. So I'm not going to be too upset it's on there, as it is on the side and you can do some creative interpretation of it.
How they still don't get it:
  • Grains and dairy are not a necessary part of a healthy diet. Period. They are largely harmful, especially wheat and low-fat, pasteurized dairy. But we need to be realistic, The US Department of Agriculture puts this out, and they are basically owned by the agribusiness lobby, who makes all their money off cheap grain and dairy. As long as that interest holds the power it does, there will NEVER be recommendations from the USDA that do not include grains and dairy. This sucks, but it's true.
  • The actual written recommendations are extremely fat-phobic and way too pro-carbohydrate. This will ensure that people continue to get fatter and sicker, all the while thinking they're "eating healthy". But then, maybe people won't bother to read the written recommendations. We can only hope.
  • Protein is not big enough. Not even close. Fruit is one of those "moderation" things, but it is the the same size as protein, which is essential! And there is no mention of healthy fat (read: not trans-fat, not industrial seed oils).
  • The plate is almost all carbohydrate. Carbohydrate is 1) only one of the three macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrate), 2) the only non-essential macronutrient (we can burn ketones for fuel or make glucose from protein via gluconeogenesis), and 3) by far the most problematic in terms of widespread illness and obesity.
But like I said, I kind of like the idea of the plate metaphor. So how would I construct a Nutrition Plate?

What do you think? (Notice I put a knife on there instead of just a fork. You need that to cut your meat.) Of course I would argue that there's not a great one-size-fits-all plan. The wedges really should be different sizes for different people, depending on their health, their body compositions, their metabolism, and their goals. But I think this is a decent starting point.

4 comments:

Donna said...

For my specific case, I cannot agree with what you have said - BUT, note that I am saying with regard to my case.

I have had weight loss surgery, over three years ago. As a result of that, a lot of food no longer affect my body the way they did before the weight loss surgery.

My digestive system is permanently altered as a result of the gastric bypass. The part of my digestive tract that used to process sugars of any type (fruit, veggies - yes, some veggies are HIGH in corn) is bypassed.

My main energy source must be protein now - protein from good quality and lean meats, beans, and other foods.

Therefore, I have found that what is usually said with regard to food and health just is not applicable to me.

Making absolute statements does not seem wise - there will always be an exception somewhere.

The best thing we can do is study what's out there and know our own bodies.

Amy said...

Hi Donna, I agree with you that different things are going to work for different people. And I'm glad to hear that the high protein is working well for you. This was just an attempt at making a less bad nutrition plate! Definitely not the answer for everyone, but I do think this would work for more folks than what the USDA is advocating.

I actually wrote a related post last week - http://knitfitter.blogspot.com/2011/05/reality-check.html

And Richard at Free the Animal has a nice recent post arguing against one-size-fits-all approaches - http://freetheanimal.com/2011/05/optimality-a-fools-errand.html

graciel said...

Soo-o, the beef and egg/poultry industry has nothing to do with the USDA? I'll have to say, I seriously doubt that one.

Not being unkind, but you need to be fair about these things. Just because you don't like grain and dairy doesn't mean you should think that other parts of agriculture that you agree with are pure as the driven snow when it comes to the USDA. Beef, eggs and poultry are in it up to their necks just like every other agribusiness.

Amy said...

I never said those industries were virtuous or didn't have lobbies. My point is that that grains and dairy appear on the USDA plate because of their lobbies and in spite of the health problems they cause. Meat appears on my plate because of it's nutritional value. I would encourage everyone to source their meat and eggs responsibly. That would probably piss off the meat lobby a lot, as they prop up the factory farming model.