Last month, the PureFormulas nutrition team had the honor of being one of the presenters in the 34th Annual Broward Aging Network Conference. The topic we chose: cooking healthy on a budget. As we prepared our presentation, we quickly realized that we couldn’t talk about nutrition without first diving into what it means to eat healthy. This is exactly what we focused on and, because it is such an important topic, I wanted to share with you in this month’s column!
Years ago, the guidelines to healthy eating used to be presented in the form of a pyramid whose base comprised grains, with fruits and vegetables given less importance than they deserved. However, in June 2011 the US government launched a brand new tool for healthy eating, known as My Plate. The premise is simple: build a healthier plate. By using a plate as an icon instead of a pyramid, Americans now have a clearer and more practical guide to making better food choices. My Plate places fruits and vegetables in the forefront by having them occupy half of the plate, while also reducing the emphasis on grains and proteins.
Let’s dive a little further into My Plate starting with the main portions, the fruits and vegetables. These are great sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and tons of other nutrients. The official recommendation is two to three servings of fruit and three to four servings of vegetables. If you have a hard time remembering these numbers on a daily basis, remember that for every meal, at least half of your plate should be filled with these two delicious and colorful groups.
Next we have grains. When we think of this group, wheat and oats probably come to mind first. However, there is such wide variety of grains, including ancient grains that are now growing in popularity, such as quinoa, buckwheat, freekeh (love the name!), amaranth, farro, and couscous. Although many of these seem new to us, they are called “ancient” because they have been used for years in other cultures for their great nutrients and flavor. Some ancient grains that are also a great gluten-free alternative include quinoa, buckwheat, millet, and amaranth.
The servings recommended for grains range from five to eight depending on your age and gender and, although this may seem like a generous amount, we must keep in mind what actually counts as one serving: one slice of bread, one cup cereal, half a cup cooked rice or other grain. Something else to consider is that at least half of our grains should be whole instead of refined. This is because when the grain is refined, it loses some of its precious nutrients that come in the bran and germ (removed when grains are refined) such as fiber, B vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. This process leaves you mostly with the less healthy carbohydrate portion.
We must remember that eating whole grains (along with fruits and vegetables) is a great way to reach the daily fiber recommendation of 25-38 grams. Unfortunately most Americans are falling short and eat only about half as much, missing out on some of fiber’s great benefits, such as helping reduce cholesterol and keeping us regular with our bowel movements.
The next group occupying the plate is protein. To many, this is the most important part of a meal and is usually the most valued part of a dish when eating out. The menu is usually even divided by meats, chicken, and fish. However, with the new guidelines, we see that the protein part of your plate should occupy less than one fourth of it! The serving recommended per der day is 5-6 ounces. Not sure how much that is? Simple: just look at the palm of your hand. This roughly equals three ounces.
Also, when talking about protein, we can’t forget to mention that part of this group includes eggs and a great variety of plant based options such as beans, peas, tofu, nuts, nut butters, and seeds. With these options, what counts as one ounce is one fourth cup of cooked beans, one egg, and one tablespoon of peanut butter.
The last group is dairy, best known as a source of calcium and vitamin D. But milk, yogurt, and cheese do not stand alone in the dairy group. We can now find dairy-free alternatives that come from soy, almond, coconut, and cashew. If you are a fan of coconut, give coconut milk a try. Its delightful flavor has turned it into my personal favorite dairy-free alternative!
The recommendation for this group is three servings—one serving equals one cup of milk or yogurt or one-and-a-half ounces of cheese. In simpler terms, take a look at your thumb. This equals approximately one ounce.
So for your next meal, look at your plate. Are grains and protein occupying too much space? Make sure to keep the proportions from MyPlate in mind and remember that fruits and/or vegetables should cover at least half of your plate. Have fun with the endless meal options you will have when you follow this easy method, and get a nutrient boost in every meal.
Until next time!