What should we eat? Introducing ‘The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate’
If you regularly read popular magazines and newspapers or listen to the news, you would be forgiven for thinking that the ‘experts’ are forever changing their minds. Advice about Super-foods and Killer-foods appears to change with the weather and new weight loss plans with amazing health claims are being invented all the time. Doctors advise we should eat a balanced diet and the government has put a lot of money behind the “5 a day” & “Low salt” campaigns. Health experts talk about good fats and bad fats, adding unusual grains, seeds and nuts to our diets and bemoan the risks of eating too much wheat and dairy. We are told not to eat process foods and then tempted by bars, drinks and gels that claim to have all the health benefits of eating well but without the hassle.
Firstly Id like to have a rant about the difference between weight loss diets and healthy eating. In my post “Why conventional dieting doesn’t work”, Sandra Aamodt talked about eating Mindfully. What I take from this is that we need to look at what we ‘want’ and then eat accordingly. If your priority is to compete in the Olympics or play world class tennis, you will need to eat in a way that for many people would not be healthy. If you want to loose weight, you may find that with your personal, individual set of circumstances, a diet that restricts one food group or involves fasting a couple of days a week, works for you. You may even choose to eat like this for the rest of your life but for the whole population this is not the healthiest option.
So what is a healthy diet ?
Through all this hype and using the very latest research, Harvard University designed the Healthy Eating Plate. It was crated to provide a simple guide to what you should eat and drink and was first published in 2011. Although Harvard also give a lot of detailed advice on what types of foods should make up the sections, the brilliance of the Healthy Eating Plate is its simple messages.
- Half of everything you eat should be fruit and vegetables
- Vegetables are better than fruits
- Carbohydrates should be wholegrain where ever possible
- Protein includes fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and beans not just meat
- We should eat a variety of oils
- Water is the very best drink
- Processed foods are not good
- We need to stay active
The main focus of the Healthy Eating Plate is diet quality.
- The type of carbohydrate in the diet is more important than the amount of carbohydrate in the diet. Some sources of carbohydrate—like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans—are healthier than others.
- The Healthy Eating Plate also advises consumers to avoid sugary beverages, a major source of calories—usually with little nutritional value. Fruit juices are better than squash but only just.
- and it encourages you to use healthy oils and does not even set a maximum percentage of calories people should get from fat. The Healthy Eating Plate recommends the opposite of the low-fat message promoted for decades by pretty much everyone in the diet industry. It promotes balance.
The potato dilema
The latest ‘Healthy Eating Plate’ says ” The more vegetables and the greater the variety of vegetables the better. Potatoes and french fries don’t count”. This is similar advice to the UK’s “5 a day” and is based on the fact that a potato is very high starch and is used in the diet in a more similar way to grains; bread, pasta or rice. I can see why health professionals feel that special mention needs to be made of the potato, but for me the potato is still a vegetable. Although not high in vitamin C it is actually the most important source in the UK diet and potatoes also contain vitamin E, K B6, B12, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Folate, Pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium and a small amount of omega-3s. So not exactly a junk food and I feel it should be given the same treatment as other vegetables, after all peas have far more sugar and pealed carrots are lower fibre. As with all foods surely the key is in the preparation and being aware that variety is important.