In June 2011 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) replaced the “Food Pyramid” with a “Food Plate” urging Americans to eat a more plant-based diet of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and lean protein, together with fat-free or 1% milk.
At a cursory glance, this Food Plate is already leaps and bounds ahead of both the 1992 and 2005 Food Pyramids. It is not a pyramid but a food plate, which is much easier to visualize at the dinner table. The Food Plate no longer emphasizes that grains should make up the majority of your diet and it increases the recommended amounts of fruits and veggies to half of your plate.
However, the Food Plate is still far from an ideal meal plan that supports optimal health. If you are trying to follow the guidelines of the Food Plate, you should be aware of its shortcomings mentioned below.
The Missing Fats
The entire fats group is practically non-existent on this new Food Plate which endorses a diet low in fats. Apart from a small amount in the lean protein and low-fat dairy, there is no recommendation of any additional fats.
For one, fat is essential for many body functions. Human beings cannot survive without fats in the diet, especially the essential fatty acids such as omega 3 and 6, which cannot be produced by the body and have to be obtained from the food. Dietary fats:
- help you stay full and even out your blood sugar fluctuations,
- are needed for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and minerals,
- are the building blocks of cell membranes and a variety of hormones,
- serve as an important energy store for the body,
- play a vital role in maintaining healthy skin and hair, and
- are necessary for the normal functioning of the brain.
The Food Plate fails to mention any of the following healthy fats or warn against the consumption of the unhealthy ones.
- Contrary to conventional advice, saturated fats from organic, grass-fed animals (meats, butter, and dairy) are actually good for you. Latest long-term studies show there is no evidence that saturated fats lead to higher risk of heart disease. However, be aware that saturated fats from conventionally-raised animals are of much lower quality as they are generally injected with hormones and antibiotics that tend to accumulate in the fat.
- Monounsaturated fats from olive oil and avocados. As olive oil has a low smoking point, limit its use to salads and low to moderate heat cooking.
- Omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish caught in clean, pristine waters. Wild-caught Alaskan salmon, sardines, herrings, and anchovies are fish with minimal levels of mercury.
- Omega 6 fatty acids from raw nuts and seeds. Raw nuts are better than roasted nuts as the fats in the nuts are fragile in nature and tend to go rancid at high temperatures.
- Trans fats found in processed foods and fried foods, such as French fries, fried chicken, doughnuts, cookies, pastries, and crackers. This type of fat, as opposed to saturated fats, raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, lowers HDL (“good”) cholesterol, clogs your arteries, and leads to increased risk of heart disease.
- Refined oils made from corn, soybean, canola, safflower, and sunflower. These oils have been processed under high temperatures and are practically rancid. In addition, most corn, soybean, and canola come from genetically modified crops that have been heavily sprayed with pesticides.
Low-Fat Dairy Not Your Healthiest Choice
Unfortunately, based on the misguided information that saturated fat is bad for you, the new Food Plate recommends Americans to consume low-fat and non-fat dairy. Numerous studies have now proven that the fats in organic dairy, in particular, the raw version, are in reality beneficial to you.
Research shows that full-fat dairy may help reduce your risk of many diseases:
- Diabetes. Palmitoleic acid in dairy fat protects against insulin resistance and lowers risk of diabetes.
- Heart disease. Palmitoleic acid results in healthier levels of blood cholesterol and inflammatory markers.
- Cancer. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in dairy fat reduces tumor growth and lowers risk of cancer.
- Weight management. A 9-year study of 19,000 normal weight, middle-aged women found that those who ate at least one serving of full-fat dairy a day gained 30% less weight than women who did not.
Best type of dairy
The healthiest is raw, organic, full-fat dairy from grass-fed animals. Raw dairy does not go through pasteurization or homogenization.
Pasteurization is a process of heating the milk to a high temperature for a short period of time and then cooling it immediately. This process destroys enzymes, vitamins B6, B12, and C, kills beneficial bacteria, and denatures fragile milk proteins.
Homogenization is a process that breaks down the butterfat globules by forcing the milk through a series of screens at high pressure so that they become the same size particles as the rest of the milk. The resulting fat particles become so small they stay in suspension rather than rise to the top of the milk.
Some studies showed that homogenization makes the fat more susceptible to rancidity and oxidation and that homogenized fats may be one of the contributing factors to heart disease.
Your next best choice is dairy from organic, pasteurized but non-homogenized milk.
For more information about dairy, please go to Should You Eat Non-fat Or Low-fat Dairy?
Too Much Fruits
The new Food Plate suggests making half the plate fruits and vegetables. Emphasizing on more vegetables is indeed a step in the right direction, however, making fruits almost the same amount as vegetables is probably too much for a lot of people.
It is true that fruits are a good source of vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber, but fruits are also high in fruit sugar, or fructose. Fructose is metabolized differently from glucose. (Sugar is 50% glucose, 50% fructose.)
The entire burden of metabolizing fructose falls on your liver, whereas with glucose, your liver breaks down only 20%. Besides, every cell in your body uses glucose, so unless you consume in excess, it gets burned up by the body.
Fructose, on the other hand, is turned into fat (VLDL and triglycerides) and deposited throughout your body. Over consumption of fructose has far reaching effects on you health. It leads to:
- Weight gain, abdominal obesity, increased LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, decreased HDL (“good”) cholesterol, increased triglycerides (fat in blood), elevated blood sugar, and high blood pressure – the classic metabolic syndrome.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- Insulin resistance. One in three Americans have insulin resistance, this includes the pre-diabetics and the diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetics.
- Elevated uric acid (which is related to gout, kidney stones, kidney disease, high blood pressure, or heart disease) and chronic inflammation in the body.
Knowing this, it is not wise to over consume fruits, in particular fruit juice. For those who are already insulin resistant, you should avoid fruits all together but instead eat plenty of above ground vegetables. You will get the same vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber without the negative effects of fructose.
How do you know if you are insulin resistant? You can get a blood test for your fasting insulin level and see if it is over 5 uIU/ml. If you are overweight, have diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, it is a reasonable bet that you may have insulin resistance.
Eat More CLEAN Veggies
A smart choice for your health is to substantially increase your vegetable consumption (except corn and potatoes). Yet, bear in mind that many vegetables are loaded with pesticides which are carcinogenic and damaging to your immune, endocrine and nervous systems.
For the following veggies, you should definitely buy organic as they retain high levels of pesticides:
- Green beans
- Green onions
- Hot peppers
- Sweet bell peppers
The new Food Plate recommends grain consumption to be about 30% of your diet and suggests making at least half your grains whole grains. This is a huge improvement over the previous Food Pyramids which recommended grains to be the majority of your diet. However, since two-thirds of the Americans are either overweight or obese, eating this much grain is the last thing you want to do to lose weight.
Many people are still being misled that the so-called “good” carbs like whole grains or fruits won’t make you fat. The truth is: whether it is whole grain, sprouted grain, or refined grain, all grains break down to sugar. Over consumption of any grains or fruits will lead to insulin resistance and weight gain.
- Make sure you include some healthy fats in your diet. They include saturated fat from grass-fed animals, monounsaturated fat from olive oil and avocados, omega-3 from fish caught in clean, pristine waters, and omega-6 from raw nuts and seeds.
- Best dairy is raw and full-fat from grass-fed animals. Second best is organic, pasteurized but not homogenized dairy.
- Regular over consumption of fruits and grains, be it whole or refined, may lead to insulin resistance, weight gain, and many chronic diseases.
- Eat plenty of clean veggies.