Hello Readers! Today’s topic is a little different since it focuses on nutrition essentials and facts rather than on a specific diet or workout plan. Today I want to focus on the Choose My Plate initiative created and presented by the United States Department of Agriculture. This initiative was made popular by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2008 when she began her fight against childhood obesity and focused her attention on healthy eating habits for children and for schools.
Whatever your opinions may be on First Lady Michelle Obama or of the POTUS, this initiative is one that almost everyone will agree with. Healthy eating habits and teaching children about healthy eating habits is important. And this is, by far, the best example of a balanced and healthy diet as ever.
Choose My Plate focuses on the following key points:
- Each meal should be a balance of fruits/vegetables, grains, and proteins
- Each meal should always be half produce with the other half of the plate split between grains and proteins
- Saturated fats and sugars should be minimal and rare
- Dairy should be minimal as well
The key to success with the initiative is to always balance nutrition and focus on a variety of sources for nutrition. So, let’s break down the key areas of each food group on this initiative as well as the number of servings each person should eat each day.
Fruits vary in amounts each person should eat per day. The amount is based on the age of the person. The amount varies between one cup of fruit per day for children 2-4 years old to 2 cups of fruit per day for men ages 19 and up and women 19 to 30. For the most part, if you were to eat 1 1/2 cups of fruit per day you would be sufficient in your intake. What really matters is the type of fruit you eat.
What counts as one cup of fruit is one cup of fresh fruit, one cup of canned fruit (in water), one cup of 100% fruit juice, or 1/2 cup of dried fruit. With fruit juice, the USDA recommends having fruit juice sparingly as it typically comes from concentrate and often contains sugar in one form or another.
Vegetables are broken down into five subgroups:
- Dark green vegetables
- starchy vegetables
- Red and orange vegetables
- beans and peas
- other vegetables (Includes lettuce, zucchini, onions, etc.)
Just like with fruits, vegetables vary in amount per person depending on the person’s age. Each day, a person should consume between one and three cups of vegetables per day. However 2 to 2 1/2 cups consumed per day is the average. Equally, vegetable intake should vary throughout the week, as well, to include a variety of each subgroup during the week. This means that a person should also pay particular attention to what kinds of vegetables they are consuming and avoid excessive intake of any particular subgroup. This takes a bit to learn about, and I highly recommend reading what constitutes as a vegetable in each category. Furthermore, I highly recommend adhering to the suggestions as it can help keep you on the right track for your daily diet.
Like the vegetable group, the grains are split between two subgroups: Whole and Refined. Whole grain foods are those that contain the whole kernel of grain. Refined are those that have been milled. One example of a whole grain is oatmeal, regardless of kind. And one example of a refined grain is a buttermilk pancake or a biscuit. Grains, of course, vary in amounts based on age and are figured in ounces rather than cups. But it varies between 3 ounces and 8 ounces, with 6 ounces being the norm. However, half of all grains consumed should be whole grains.
Proteins are, for the most part, pretty understandable as far as sources. However, sources include fish, shellfish, beef, poultry, beans and peas, soy products, nuts, seeds, and eggs. There are a wide variety of ways a person can get their protein sources each day. Again, like grains, proteins are calculated in ounces rather than cups. The daily recommendation varies from two ounces to 6 ounces with 5 being the average. And, of course, the daily recommendations vary based on age. Again, the USDA recommends adding a variety of protein sources to your intake to provide for a balanced diet.
While not discussed before, Dairy is still a category among the Choose My Plate guide. Fluid milk is in this category, among with dairy products that retain their calcium qualities, such as cheese (except for cream cheese), yogurt, and whatnot. Butter and cream do not count as a source of dairy, and all sources of dairy should be fat free or low fat. As for daily intakes of dairy, all age groups and genders are recommended to have 3 cups worth except for children ages 2 to 3 (who need two cups) and children ages 4 to 8 (who need 2 1/2 cups). Aside from the obvious liquid cup for one cup equivalent, others are calculated based on calcium qualities.
The USDA makes it very clear that oils are not considered to be a food group but that they should still be accounted for in your diet as they are found in foods such as nuts, fish, cooking oil, and salad dressings. As such, the average daily intake is 5 teaspoons and varies between 3 teaspoons and 7 teaspoons. Such examples of oils for Choose My Plate include vegetable oils (canola, peanut, olive, etc), Mayonnaise and salad dressings, avocado, olives, Peanut butter, and nuts like peanuts and almonds.
Now, on top of providing this information on the website, the USDA also provides several resources for free. Some really cool resources are “My Plate on a Budget” which includes a sample 2 week menu plan and accompanying recipes, recipes from the White House, and Tips and Advice on how to maintain a healthy diet on this new food guide. I highly recommend checking it out and learning about healthy eating habits today.
Until next time,