It’s National Nutrition Month and while it may not be everybody’s favorite thing to celebrate, here at the Meriden Health Department we’re pretty excited, especially because this year’s theme is “get your plate in shape.”
A new food “plate” was introduced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in late 2010. This plate replaces the food pyramid, which makes sense – we eat off of plates, not pyramids! The food plate is broken down into 4 groups – fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein (i.e. meat, poultry, beans, eggs, tofu). Dairy is off to the side, featured in a glass.
The new plate encourages making half of your plate fruits and vegetables. Fruits provide nutrients vital for health, such as potassium, dietary fiber, and vitamin C. Most fruits are naturally low in fat, sodium, and calories. None have cholesterol. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed. One-hundred percent fruit juice also counts! Keep a bowl of seasonal fruit on your kitchen counter as a reminder to dig in! Dried fruit, such as raisins, also make a great snack.
It’s easy to eat more vegetables! Eating vegetables is important because they provide vitamins and minerals and most are low in calories. When fresh is not available, or is too expensive, think frozen and canned. Cook frozen vegetables in the microwave or in a skillet for a quick-and-easy dish to add to any meal. Be careful not to purchase vegetables with “sauces” – they can add a lot of extra calories and salt to your diet. If you purchase canned, look for low or no sodium (salt) and rinse the canned vegetables well before heating and serving.
Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of food found in the grain group. The take home message here is to make half of your grains whole grains. Read the ingredients list and choose products that name a whole grain ingredient first on the list. Look for “whole wheat,” “brown rice,” “bulgur,” “buckwheat,” “oatmeal,” “whole-grain cornmeal,” “whole oats,” “whole rye,” or “wild rice.” The kids can help with this task – make them nutrition detectives during your shopping trip!
The dairy group includes milk, yogurt, cheese, and fortified soymilk. They provide calcium, vitamin D, potassium, protein, and other nutrients needed for good health throughout life. Choices should be low-fat or fat-free. Regular cream cheese, cream, and butter are not part of the dairy food group. They are high in saturated fat and have little or no calcium.
Protein foods include both animal (meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs) and plant (beans, peas, soy products, nuts, and seeds) sources. We all need protein—but most Americans eat enough, and some eat more than they need. The recommended amount is 8 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight. This means a 150 pound person should eat about 60 grams of protein a day. This can add up quick – 1 cup of cooked lentils has 18 grams of protein!
The plate image is a reminder to us to eat a healthy, balanced diet, and, well, to eat off of plates as much as possible. Much of the food we eat is directly out of bags, boxes, and plastic trays. Our next article will give fun tips on ways to change where and how you eat, which can sometimes influence how much we eat. Stay tuned! For more information on the food plate, please visit www.choosemyplate.gov.