What Does Your Plate Look Like?
Forget the food pyramids and start looking at your diet the way it comes to you in real life—on a plate! The new MyPlate program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is a great way to help older adults ensure their diet is well-balanced, as well as heart- and kidney-friendly.
I love the image of a plate, divided into quadrants, with about a quarter each for protein, grains, veggies, and fruits, with the dairy serving on the side. Simple, easy, elegant.
The numbered points below are from the USDA, along with a few ideas of my own to help you tailor your plate:
- Enjoy your food but, if you are overweight, eat less. Remember, high-fat, high-sugar foods have lots of calories, but not much other nutrition. Help your waistline and your health by cutting down on them. If you are used to eating dessert every night, try fruit. The changes don't have to be big, but they do have to be ones you are willing to make.
- Avoid oversized portions. Meat, poultry or fish portions should be smaller than the palm of your hand. At restaurants, opt for small beverages and child or senior entrees. Buy a set of 4-ounce juice glasses and use them for all high-calorie drinks (but drink water out of your larger cups).
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Buy fresh foods in season, and enjoy them at their peak. Frozen fruits and veggies are also great sources of "locked in" nutrition, since they are flash-frozen right after harvest. Avoid canned veggies for their salt. Avoid canned fruits for their sugar.
- Make at least half your grains whole grains. Try whole-grain pastas. They are more flavorful, and their texture holds up better for reheating. You can also try all the new varieties of whole-grain rice—red, black, brown, short, long and wild rice, to name a few.
- Use fat-free or low-fat milk and dairy foods. Remember, whole milk is really 4 percent fat, so when you buy 2 percent milk, it isn't cutting down as much as it may seem. Choose nonfat dairy when you can and lower-fat cheeses like Swiss and nonfat mozzarella.
- Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals, and choose those with lower numbers. A good goal for older adults is to consume fewer than 1,500 milligrams of salt each day. Think of it as your sodium budget. To do this, you'll have to do your own cooking because prepared foods almost always have more salt than you'd ever add by yourself.
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks. When you drink beverages like soda pop, sports drinks, nutritional supplements, or sweetened coffee drinks, your body takes on calories but doesn't feel full. Cut out those wasted calories whenever possible!
The dietitian's mantra has always been, "Eat a wide variety of foods—in moderation." Unfortunately, it's not glitzy or glamorous, and it doesn't promote million-dollar diet plans. It's just common sense.
So, it's nice to see the USDA getting back to basics again. No one ever ate a pyramid, but the plate—that speaks to all of us.
Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. She has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington.