Between the Instagram health fads and the gov’s fun with graphs, it can be trickier than ever to figure out what your body actually needs to stay fueled. So we partnered with Smucker’s Natural Fruit Spreads to give you the 411 on food guidelines and how they might help you make smarter choices to build a healthier plate.
I know what the basic food groups are, I just want to hear you say it.
It’s not you, it’s the gov. Over the years, the US has been fickle about food groups, recommending anywhere from four to 12. At one point, even butter (not a carb) had its own group. Respect.
Today, the US recognizes five: Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Protein, and Dairy. But it doesn’t stop there, each group has subgroups, too.
And the food groups are helpful...how?
Originally, food groups were supposed to help people provide their families with basic sustenance during hard times (think: the Great Depression or rationing in wartime). Now, they’re mostly used to educate the public on better choices and hopefully lessen the healthy food gap (when deeper pockets equal more access to healthy foods). The gov breaks basic nutrition out into food groups because, well, remembering to eat two cups of fruit is easier than remembering to get your daily 75mg of Vitamin C and 25g of fiber.
Got it. So, who decides this stuff?
Uncle Sam. The USDA (aka the United States Department of Agriculture) has been setting nutritional guidelines for more than 100 years. This makes some people say “hmm” because they also oversee the American farming industry...which determines what we produce...which drives what we buy and eat. Oh, and the USDA also comes up with things like The Food Wheel, the Food Guide Pyramid, and more.
Right...what’s the difference between all of the shapes?
Things took shape (had to) in the 1980s when the Food Wheel was introduced in a Red Cross nutrition course. In 1992, the USDA introduced the Food Guide Pyramid (the one you learned about in grade school) and in 2005, they came out with the MyPyramid (the one no one talks about). Finally, in 2011, then-FLOTUS Michelle Obama and the Agriculture Secretary said ‘our bodies are temples but they’re not pyramids...they’re plates.’ And the MyPlate was born.
But the saga doesn’t end there. Harvard researchers said ‘check yourself before you wreck your balanced diet’ and clapped back with the Healthy Eating Plate. They focused on limiting dairy intake and added in healthy fats. Whichever plate you pick, it’s up to you to build one that meets your unique dietary needs and philosophies.
So what you’re saying is, the “my” in “MyPlate” is important.
Ten points for Gryffindor. When it comes to building a healthy plate, there’s no blueprint that applies to everyone’s needs, beliefs, and goals. And there’s more to nutrition than a simple shape. Here are some tips experts agree on:
Get hands-on with your portions. Use your hand to help you measure. Your palm equals a serving of protein. Your fist equals a serving of starch (think: rice). A serving of fats like peanut butter, olive oil or butter is half a thumb. Gasp.
(Dark) green is good. Dark, leafy veggies (like kale and spinach) are richer in vitamins than their lighter cousins (hey, iceberg lettuce). They have basically everything your body wants, like vitamins A, C, K, magnesium, potassium, folate, antioxidants. You get it.
Think whole. Eat whole grains (look for words like ‘bran’ and ‘germ’) and favor whole foods over processed (because fresh pizza will always taste better than frozen).
Fiber from anywhere but the impulse aisle. Because those high fiber bars come in super processed packages. Get fiber from unprocessed sources like avocados, sweet potatoes, navy beans, brussel sprouts, almonds, and (air-popped) popcorn.
Avoid full-fat dairy. Low fat and fat-free dairy still provide calcium and Vitamin D.
More water. You already know this one. The general rule of thumb is around eight 8 oz glasses.
So, my plate’s pretty clean. But what about when I want something sweet?
Just make sure you’re treating your body right when you treat yourself. Look for sweets that have simple ingredients and put the good stuff first. Like Smucker’s Natural Fruit Spreads. Fruit is the first of just four ingredients in their jam, and they’re made with non-GMO ingredients (hint: from natural sources). Bonus: Smucker’s Natural Fruit Spreads says ‘nope’ to things your healthy plate wouldn’t want either, like artificial colors and flavors and high fructose corn syrup.
Whatever food guidelines you go by, try and to take the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ literally. See the plate. Be the plate. And fill it with whatever makes you and your body happy.