Harvard Healthy Eating Plate vs. U.S. Dept of Ag’s MyPlate

Nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health, in conjunction with Harvard Health Publications, created the Healthy Eating Plate. The Healthy Eating Plate can be your blueprint for planning a healthy balanced meal. Harvard says it fixes key flaws in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s official MyPlate.

How do you follow the Healthy Eating Plate? Here’s your guide, section by section (click the image above to make it larger):

Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits.

The more color, and the more variety on this part of the plate, the better.

Potatoes and French fries don’t count as vegetables on the Healthy Eating Plate. That’s because they are high in fast-digested starch (carbohydrate), which have the same roller-coaster effect on blood sugar and insulin as white bread and sweets. These surges, in the short term, can lead to hunger and overeating, and in the long term, can lead to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems.

Read more from Harvard about health connections between vegetables and fruits and carbohydrates.

Save a quarter of your plate for whole grains—not just any grains.

Whole grains have a gentler effect on blood sugar and insulin than white bread, white rice, and other so-called “refined grains.” That’s why the Healthy Eating Plate says to choose whole wheat bread, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta—the less processed, the better—and limit refined grains.

Read more about integrating whole grains into your healthy diet.

Put a healthy source of protein on one quarter of your plate.

Choose fish, chicken, beans or nuts, since these contain beneficial nutrients, such as the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in fish, and the fiber in beans. An egg a day is okay for most people, too (people with diabetes should limit their egg intake to three yolks a week, but egg whites are fine).

Limit red meat—beef, pork, and lamb—and avoid processed meats—bacon, cold cuts, hot dogs, and the like—since over time, regularly eating even small amounts of these foods raises the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer.

See some surprising information on healthy proteins.

Use healthy plant oils.

The glass bottle near the Healthy Eating Plate is a reminder to use healthy vegetable oils, like olive, canola, soy, corn, sunflower, peanut, and others, in cooking, on salad, and at the table. Limit butter, and avoid unhealthy trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils.

Read more about healthy fats.

Drink water, coffee or tea.

On the Healthy Eating Plate, it suggests to complete your meal with a glass of water, or a cup of tea or coffee (with little or no sugar).

(Harvard answers questions about caffeine and kids.)

Limit milk and dairy products to one to two servings per day, since high intakes are associated with increased risk of prostate cancer and possibly ovarian cancer.

Limit juice to a small glass per day, since it is as high in sugar as a sugary soda. Skip the sugary drinks, since they provide lots of calories and virtually no other nutrients. This can lead to weight gain, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and possibly increased risk of heart disease.

Stay active.

The small red figure running across the Healthy Eating Plate’s placemat is a reminder that staying active is half of the secret to weight control. The other half is eating a healthy diet with modest portions that meet your caloric needs.

Why not just follow the official MyPlate?

Read a head-to-head comparison between the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate and the USDA’s MyPlate. Some say it shows the shortcomings of MyPlate.

Check out answers to common questions about the Healthy Eating Plate.

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