The food pyramid was altered into a plate recently to change the portion perspective when calculating the foods we eat. The change may not be enough however. Some argue that the best health comes from plant-based foods. New research shows that cultures that eat less animal-based foods experience fewer cases of heart disease, cancer, and other diseases now linked to what we ingest. What is on the plate may be more important than the newly apportioned sections.
After a sixty year run, the food pyramid, with minor alterations in the 1970’s — the addition of fats, oils, and sweets, the image of a plate is now representative of the portions of food people should consume daily. The food pyramid identified that grains were most important, then fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, and finally, fats, oils, and sweets. The plate designates that half its surface should contain vegetables and fruit with the other half containing grains and protein. The vegetable and grains should be in larger portions than the fruits and protein.
The goal of MyPlate is to address the issue of obesity in America, as well as the diseases related to being overweight. William Neuman, in a New York Times article, “Nutrition Plate Unveiled, Replacing Food Pyramid,” says the plate was part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to provide clearer guidelines for healthier eating. Future components of the campaign encourages people to limit their consumption of oversized portions, eating less while enjoying the food, and drinking more water than drinks loaded with sugar.
Newman says many find the plate easier to relate to and a better guide to eating healthier, but there is some debate over the amount of protein on the plate, and he cites that Americans already consume too much protein. Another issue is the MyPlate protein, which includes meat, poultry, and other animal-related foods that some researchers challenge.
“The China Study,” conducted by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell, investigates the differences in health when animal- and plant-based foods are the primary sources of protein. Their findings illustrate that when providing more protein to malnourished children, and introducing Philippine and later Chinese families to diets with more meat, the outcome showed that once they introduced meat-based protein there was a correlation of cancers, diabetes, and heart disease.
The researchers concluded that diet can either intensify or reduce the prevalence of disease, depending on whether or not the subjects eat more animal or plant based foods. Animal protein showed an increase in high blood cholesterol, and breast cancer. In contrast, plant based protein showed lower blood cholesterol, a decrease in breast cancer risk, and a diminishing chance of digestive tract cancers.
The researchers initially believed that less meat protein would result in malnourishment and growth issues; however, in China they discovered that the Chinese actually consume more calories than Americans, but those calories were mainly from plant-based foods that those studied, worked off daily due to more active lifestyles and manual labor jobs. Other than those people who suffered from malnutrition, the researchers found little evidence that plant-based diets stifled growth patterns.
Although the goal of MyPlate is to limit daily portions and thereby reduce obesity in America, maybe we should also consider eating more plant-based foods to improve our overall health.
Campbell, T. Colin & Thomas M. Campbell. The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health. BenBella Books, Dallas, Texas, 2006.
Neuman, William. Nutrition Plate Unveiled, Replacing Food Pyramid. The New York Times, June 2, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/03/business/03plate.html