Elements of a Healthy Diet
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the government’s official advice about nutrition and eating habits to promote health, lessen the risk of chronic disease, and lower rates of overweight and obesity among the nation’s population. To help explain the new guidelines, the feds unveiled MyPlate, an icon that shows the approximate amounts of each major food group—fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins—people should eat at each meal. The guidelines also stress the importance of not overeating and encourage people to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk. They also advise people to scale back on salt and sugar by choosing low-sodium soups, breads, and frozen meals and drinking water instead of sugary drinks like sodas.
But many nutrition experts believe the guidelines don’t provide enough detail, particularly about the quality of specific food choices based on the currently available science. To address those shortfalls, nutrition experts at the Harvard School of Public Health teamed up with Harvard Health Publications to create a better version of MyPlate, which they dubbed the Healthy Eating Plate (see Figure 3).
|Figure 3: Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate|
One key difference between the two plates is a greater focus on whole grains in the Healthy Eating Plate. Instead of making “half your grains whole,” as MyPlate recommends, choose whole grains as often as possible. Refined grains such as white rice and white bread can lead to a rapid rise in blood sugar levels. Likewise, the Healthy Eating Plate emphasizes healthier protein sources, such as fish, poultry, and beans, instead of processed meats like bacon and cold cuts, both of which have been linked to a higher risk of diabetes (see “Rethink your food and drink: Choices that may lower diabetes risk”). The rest of this chapter details food choices of special importance to people with diabetes.
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