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Goodbye Pyramid, Hello Plate

7 Jun

I’m sure you’ve all heard the big nutrition news that broke last week- MyPyramid is out, and MyPlate is in.



Honestly, anything is an improvement from the difficult-to-interpret, pretty-much-useless pyramid. The plate presents a balanced diet in a useful, accessible format. It is divided into four sections, the largest being vegetables and grains, and the rest occupied by fruit and protein. A circle off to the side represents the dairy group- perhaps hinting that dairy is optional to a balanced diet. The guidelines that accompany the plate are as follows:

Balancing Calories

● Enjoy your food, but eat less.

● Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase

● Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

● Make at least half your grains whole grains.

● Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Foods to Reduce

● Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals ― and choose the foods with lower numbers.

● Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
My Thoughts:

  • Half the plate is fruits and veggies! This is a huge step in the right direction. The majority of the plate is made up of plant-based foods (fruits, veggies, grains)! This is also a huge positive.
  • As Marion Nestle pointed out, “protein” is a macronutrient, NOT a food group. Maybe they were looking for a neutral word to represent all protein sources because further description of the group includes both plant and animal protein sources. However, the meat industry has worked very hard to get consumers to associate the word “protein” with meat.
  • If you choose a plant protein source, you have an entirely plant-based plate! I interpret the dairy off to the side as indication that dairy is not a nessecity. Further description of this group includes alternatives such as soymilk, meaning in a not-so-obvious way MyPlate supports a vegan/vegetarian diet.
  • It’s not exactly ground-breaking, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Now, the next step is to get the government on board with their own recommendations. Until they stop subsidizing the wrong industries and start subsidizing the right industries, it is going to be pretty difficult for the public to follow the guidelines.

Check out this pie chart from the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine that shows the current breakdown of the U.S. agriculture subsidies.

This is almost the exact opposite of what MyPlate recommends.

Talk about food for thought.

On that note…
Thanks for reading 🙂


Date Night + Forks Over Knives

5 Jun

Hey friends! I hope you had a great weekend.

I wrote a post about the movie Forks Over Knives that I intended to publish on Friday, but my weekend made me rethink and revise what I wrote.

I spend the majority of my time either alone, with JWD, or with my fellow nutrition enthusiasts. We all have the healthy eating thing down pretty well and none of us are following extreme fad diets. We have many well-stocked grocery stores at our fingertips and the amazing local restaurant culture in St. Louis keeps us from darkening the doorways of American chains (i.e. Applebee’s and McDonald’s). So, it is a little too easy for me to forget about the everyday food lives of the typical American.

The typical American is bombarded with the latest diet books, fast food chains, food advertisements with too-good-to-be-true health claims, and nutrition tips and advice everyday. This toxic environment has bred a society that is completely obsessed with health, yet so very unhealthy. Simply put, it has lead to mass confusion.

My weekend away from my nutrition-savvy circle brought me back to the reality of this very problem.

Here are a few questions I got this weekend: Is bread bad or good? How many eggs in a week is too many? How do vegetarians get their protein? Do they need to combine foods? How do I eat healthy at a buffet? What if my grocery store doesn’t carry all of the specialty health products I read about? Is the calorie restriction diet unhealthy?

All of these are very valid questions with complicated answers. I have a bachelor’s in nutrition and these questions even make my head spin! So, today I’m going to attempt to give you my very basic philosophy on nutrition- the guidelines I live by to maintain my health. But first let’s start with a little recap of last week’s date night…

Thursday night was date night for me and JWD. The plan was dinner and a movie.

We started off with a Whole Foods dinner.

This jumble of heaven includes steamed kale, mixed greens, carrots, tofu, roasted sweet potatoes, tabbouleh, Detox Salad, balsamic vinaigrette, and a sprinkle of goat cheese.

Then we headed to the movie theater.

Agreeing on a movie can often be a grueling task in our house, but not tonight. We were both more than excited to see Forks Over Knives.

Please click to watch the Forks Over Knives trailer. It gives me chills!

From the movie’s website:

“FORKS OVER KNIVES examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the so-called “diseases of affluence” that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods. The major storyline in the film traces the personal journeys of a pair of pioneering yet under-appreciated researchers, Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn.”

The “diseases of affluence” they are referring to include obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. These diseases are more common among the affluent because people tend to adopt the “Western lifestyle” as their economic status improves (i.e. less physical activity, more animal products, more indulgences, etc.)

As it says, the film documents the work of two men, one a nutritional scientist and the other a medical doctor, who each discovered through separate research that people with higher intake of animal products are more likely to develop cancer and other diseases than people who eat a plant-based diet. The film also chronicles the stories of patients who have reversed their diseases by switching to a plant-based diet.

I LOVED this film!!

My Thoughts:

{Dr. Campbell, Ph.D. and Dr. Esselstyn, M.D.}

These two men  grew up on farms- their families’ livelihoods depended upon people eating animal products. They aren’t hippies. They aren’t tree-huggers. They aren’t extremists. They didn’t begin their careers with a predisposed belief that animal products are unhealthy. They simply made this discovery through critical scientific research. Their discoveries challenged their own core beliefs, but they couldn’t deny the evidence.

I must admit that dietitians and “nutritionists” are as much to blame for the confusion as other healthcare professionals. The only dietitian in the film was on the opposing side. *sigh* I sunk down in my seat a little when she was giving her opinion that we need animal protein to be healthy and eliminating it puts us at risk for deficiencies. This is not the opinion of all dietitians, but I’ve heard it echoed by many. This is not an opinion I share.

Forks Over Knives gives a fascinating look inside an area of research that gets little media attention. Through the personal stories in the film, it shows that a plant-based diet really does work and anyone from an Ultimate Fighter to a 50-year-old woman with breast cancer can benefit from it.

Now it’s time for me to share my nutrition philosophy. Because the realm of health and nutrition has falsely been made to seem mystical and confusing, you may be astounded at how simple my philosophy is. I live by the words of Micheal Pollan, author of In Defense of Food “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Eat Real Food.

Real food is simple. Real food is whole and unprocessed. It is not fancy. It is not “manufactured” in a lab. It does not have magical health claims plastered all over its packaging. In fact, it probably doesn’t even have packaging. Real food is apples, spinach, carrots, brown rice, beans, peas, lentils, and avocados. If your diet is made up of a variety of real food, you don’t need to worry about the extensive nutrition vocabulary- words like antioxidant, amino acid, trans fat, etc.

Not Too Much.

This one is a toughy in our current food climate. As a society we have completely lost sight of appropriate portion sizes. We are so used to being served a platter of pasta at restaurants, that the 1-cup appropriate pasta serving seems tiny. This is one of the ideas behind the new plate that has replaced the Food Guide Pyramid. It gives people a visual of appropriate food portions in relation to other food groups. It is similar to the strategy I use. I always fill at least half my plate with fruits and vegetables. I’ll talk more in depth about the new plate in an upcoming post. For a rundown on portion sizes, check out this post.

Mostly Plants.

This final guideline brings us full circle back to the film. Forks Over Knives suggests that by eating mostly plants, we can prevent and cure diseases of affluence. It is a myth that humans need animal products to be healthy. More and more research is showing that we are healthier without animal products. These diseases of affluence are basically nonexistent in parts of the world where animal products are minimally consumed.

So why isn’t this common knowledge? The meat and dairy industry (along with all processed food companies) are extremely large and powerful, and they aren’t afraid to exercise their power on our government. I’ll save the political discussion for another day. In the conditions of our current society, healthy plant-eating people aren’t worth much money to the food industry/pharmaceutical industry.

Eating a diet of real food, mostly plants, and exercising portion control is so incredibly simple. However, it is perceived as extreme because it is so drastically different from the typical American diet. I know that following these three guidelines leads to health and vitality. I know this from my personal experience, my studies in nutrition, and the research of others.

Because our current food society makes this simple idea so complicated, I am on a mission to simplify it. I want to show you that eating healthy is not complicated, technical, or extreme.

Paraphrasing Dr. Esselstyn from the film- “most people scoff at a plant-based diet because it is “too extreme”, but isn’t having your chest split open for heart surgery pretty extreme?”

GO SEE FORKS OVER KNIVES {check here to find a theater near you}

and thanks for reading 🙂


The Western Diet

19 May

What would a 100 year-old think of McDonald’s, high fructose corn syrup, genetically engineered produce, and the soy filler concoction that’s added to fast food hamburgers? As an American, I hang my head in shame when I think about the awful changes we’ve made to the American diet over the past 100 years. The “food-like substances” that we eat today are NOTHING like the foods eaten by Americans a decade ago. Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce “The Western Diet”.

The Western Diet was “invented” by the western world (America) and is defined as a diet high in animal products (especially red meat), saturated and hydrogenated fat, processed food, and low in fiber, plant foods (fruits and vegetables), and whole grains. The “Western Diet” is to blame for the “Western diseases”- obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and certain cancers. I’m not going to ask you to give up meat and only eat vegetables (stay with me, Uncle Kent). In fact, tons of research has shown that a wide variety of “traditional” diets keep humans healthy and disease-free. The only diet that is shown to cause high disease rates and shown to deteriorate human health is the Western Diet. How does our diet differ from traditional diets? One difference: Traditional diets consist of real food. The easiest way to think of this is to imagine what your grandma/great-grandma would serve for dinner. Everything would be whole foods, perhaps even from her garden. Instead of boxes and packaging littering the kitchen counter, there would be mixing bowls and measuring cups because most everything would be made from scratch. The meat and eggs probably came from a farm down the road and everything would be sure to spoil if not consumed within a week. Fast-forward to today. The components of a typical American dinner come from either a package, box, or drive-thru. The ingredient lists on the packaging consist of a long list of unpronounceable additives and preservatives that Grandma wouldn’t recognize. Foods that should only last about a week can now sit in our cabinets for weeks, months, and even years before they go bad. “Cooking” the way Grandma did has transformed into tearing open a box, adding water, and waiting in front of the microwave. Yes, cooking from scratch takes more time. Yes, real whole foods don’t last as long. No, you probably don’t have a chicken farmer in your subdivision (but there might be one closer than you think!). But YES, eating like Grandma is healthier and better for your body than allowing Mickey D’s to cook (submerge in the deep-fryer) your dinner. Here’s a few things you can do to rewind your food habits and take a cue from your very wise elders. 

  • Eat real, whole foods. Whole fruits and vegetables might not last as long as Fruit Roll-Ups and potato chips, but they will do wonders for your health. Don’t have time replenish your fruit and veggie supply every week? Frozen fruits and vegetables last longer than fresh and they are just as nutritious. Another tip- keep fresh fruits and veggies in the fridge to slow the ripening process.
  • Reduce your packaging. If a food comes in a package, it’s most likely processed which means it most likely contains substances that are foreign to your body. When you do buy packaged foods (because I know you will), check the ingredient list and think of these two rules: 1. The shorter the better and 2. if there’s multiple ingredients you can’t pronounce, it’s probably not good for you.
  • Utilize your local farmers. This is the perfect time of year to seek out local farmers and local farmer’s markets. You’ll find the freshest of the fresh produce, meat, eggs, breads, and cheeses and you’ll probably get a better deal than you would at Wal-Mart. Yeah, I said it. 🙂 Check out Local Harvest to find your local farms, farmer’s markets, and grocery stores.  

I know that the pace of the modern world is faster than in your great-grandma’s time, but all I’m really asking is that you simplify your food habits. Eat foods that would be recognizable to a generation 60 years ago. These are foods that our bodies were biologically designed to eat, foods that our bodies know how to digest. They don’t contain a million different additives that build up inside our bodies and make us sick- clogging our arteries, raising our blood sugar, and forming cancer cells. You don’t have to drastically change everything you eat. It is possible to find snack foods and loaves of bread made with simple ingredients, you just have to look.

Next time you are buzzing through the grocery store or throwing together dinner, take yourself back 60 years and imagine what Grandma/Great-Grandma would choose.

**If you are interested in reading more on this topic, I suggest all of Michael Pollan’s books. He is an incredible food journalist and his books unveil the truth about the dietary mess America has gotten itself in to. I would start with Food Rules. It’s an easy read- about 150 pages of food rules to live by. Very cute book! He also wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food– both are much more in-depth and very eye-opening.

Thank you, jwd for helping me focus my thoughts. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

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