More on MyPlate

June 17, 2011 in Health, Nutrition, Weight Management by Mary Ireland

I liked Dr. Grandma’s blog earlier this week on the new MyPlate. I think the new MyPlate has a great chance of succeeding because it will work for kids. I believe that it is a powerful image will make a lasting impression. It shows them in a very simple and memorable way appropriate food groups and appropriate portions. My hope is that as MyPlate is used in schools along with nutritional education, kids will begin to assimilate healthy eating habits into their lives.

MyPlate may not be perfect but I see it as an excellent start due to its strong visual nature. It makes it clear that fruits and vegetables are important. My favorite part is that there isn’t a place for dessert or soda! Another thing I like is kids can see that a hamburger doesn’t fit on the plate. Now granted, you could take all of the parts of a hamburger and put them in their appropriate places on the plate; but even that makes it more apparent that there are hardly any vegetables, too much grain (bread) and too much meat.

The name MyPlate makes the image personal. Also, it is a plate not a bag, package, box or anything else in which processed food is packaged in these days. Despite its shortcomings, I think that the visual will have a big impact on kids at a subconscious level. And let’s face it, how many adults really looked at the food pyramid? Except Registered Dieticians or those of us who blog about food and nutrition, I don’t think a lot of people look at the food pyramid. I really didn’t like the latest food pyramid; to me it was too busy and complex; and if I thought that, imagine how difficult it was for a teacher to explain or a child to understand.

Now I admit that children are going to have to have some help from adults. When I watched Jamie Oliver’s TED talk, Jamie Oliver's TED Prize wish: Teach every child about food, I was amazed at the number of children who could not recognize vegetables. He showed video clips of children who could not identify tomatoes, potatoes, beets, cauliflower or eggplant. I have personal experience with this: I frequently have to identify the vegetables for the checkers at the grocery store.

A way to educate children about vegetables is using one of the tips from Dr. Grandma -- get them involved with food, beginning at the grocery store with the selection of their food. It makes me happy to see parents pushing their shopping carts around the grocery store with their child eating an apple, banana, carrot or some other vegetable. I’ve even seen a child eating an avocado – the mom said the child loved them. What a wonderful experience for the child and so much healthier than the kids I’ve seen going for the candy bars at the checkout stand.

However, you only have to look at the overweight and obesity statistics to know that preparing nutritious meals and getting children involved is not the norm. As Jamie Oliver points out, part of the problem is that the parents have not had the education or training themselves. Some families are in their fourth generation of not having meals at home and depending on fast foods. In the article, Overweight is the new normal, Robert Nolin talks about the number of changes that have been made to accommodate a heavier population – from theater seating, wheelchairs, clothing, reinforced beds, walkers and coffins, just to name a few. All of these changes are being made because it appears that overweight is the new normal. It seems with two-thirds of our population overweight, we as a nation have settled into acceptance.

At the end of the article Nolin quotes the Peggy Howell of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. Howell says, “Attitudes, not products, need to change. Stopping the discrimination and the bias and the prejudice would make life a lot better for fat people." I agree with that statement. I don’t believe that people should be discriminated against because of their size. However, we as a society must face the stark reality of the dangers of being overweight or obese. A report from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington found that that life expectancy declined for U.S. women in 25% of counties in America between 1997 and 2007. According to the article, declines in a developed nation are rare. A setback this large has not been seen in the U.S. since the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918. The decline is largely attributed to smoking, obesity and high blood pressure.

How can we stop this trend? Jamie Oliver uses several techniques in his TED talk to help people to realize the importance of healthy eating habits and maintaining a healthy weight. One technique is to put a year’s worth of fast food in the family’s house. For me this is very effective. Even from the TV screen, I can see the fat congealing on the food and can almost smell the grease. It is really gross. The thing that strikes me most is the lack of vegetables. A simple way to capture what you eat without purchasing a room full of fast food, is to use the camera on your cell phone to take pictures of everything you eat. Create a visual food diary. Then you can compare the images on the camera with the image of MyPlate. If you need help incorporating more veggies, see 20 Ways to Enjoy More Fruits, Vegetables, Whole Grains and Dairy.

I think Jamie Oliver’s most successful technique is making the implications of being overweight and obesity real. Because the ramifications of eating a poor diet or being overweight take a long time to manifest, it is human nature to disregard the dangers. The video makes it clear that there are substantial risks for eating poorly and getting too little exercise and perhaps most importantly is the effect that obesity has on families and loved ones. Don’t fall into the false notion that you will be able to take medications for whatever problems result from your lifestyle. Medications have side effects, are expensive and won’t give you back your vitality.

There are all sorts of easy ways to get out of the fast food rut and start preparing healthy foods. There are videos on YouTube for cooking just about anything. This one for cooking brown rice is interesting. Dr. Grandma’s has great, healthy recipes for vegetable side dishes, main dishes, healthy desserts and healthy snacks. Dr. Grandma’s muffin mix and pancake mix are easy and nutritious way to replace highly processed products containing refined flour.  In a surprising move in the area of reducing added sugar, this week it was announced that the LA Unified School District has banned flavored milk in district schools. This is a huge step in the right direction for nutritional change. The picture below is from the first episode in season two of the Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution on ABC. It shows the added sugar in one week's worth of flavored milk in the LA Unified School District. The sugar has filled up the bus and has overflowed to the outsides.

Take your own steps toward a healthier future. Look at your plate and decide to have it look as much like MyPlate as you can, for as many meals a day, a week, a month and a year as possible. Don’t make it a big scary thing. Just do it.