It seems like everyone is trying to eat better these days. Over half of Americans attempt to eat healthy food on a regular basis. For those just beginning to consider a change in their eating habits, trying to find reliable information can be a challenge. There is a lot of information out there—and not all of it is accurate. The U.S. Department of Agriculture monitors statistics on American diets and makes recommendations every five years for improving eating habits. They currently recommend using something called “The Plate Model.”
Using The Plate Model is pretty simple. When preparing a meal using a standard 9-inch dinner plate, divide it into four quarters. Fill two quarters (or half) of the plate with raw or cooked non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, zucchini or green beans. Next, fill another quarter of the plate with lean protein, such as fish, chicken or turkey. This will automatically control your portion size to about 4 ounces (the appropriate portion size for an adult.) Finally, fill the last quarter of your plate with a complex starchy carb, such as whole wheat pasta, brown rice, or quinoa.
Variety is an important factor in sustaining healthy eating habits. Remember the rainbow when planning your meals! When thinking of ways to increase variety in your diet, think about the color of your foods. Different colored foods contain different vitamins and phytonutrients, so it’s important to get a wide range of these nutrients in every meal.
Red foods like beets, cherries, watermelon, and tomatoes are high in lycopene, which helps to reduce risk of cancer and protect against heart attacks.
Yellow and orange foods like carrots and summer squash are high in beta-carotene, which is then converted into Vitamin A—important for immune function and vision, as well as skin and bone health.
Green foods like spinach, kale, broccoli and Brussel sprouts are high in fiber and Vitamin K and folic acid. Folic acid helps to prevent neural tube defects when pregnant and Vitamin K helps prevent blood clotting.
Blue and purple foods are high in anthocyanin. Anthocyanins help prevent blood clots and lower cancer risk. These foods are considered to have the highest levels of antioxidants.
By making sure you follow The Plate Model and include a variety of colors on your plate, you will ensure you are getting all the nutrients your body needs—and have fun in the process!
Lead Clinical Dietitian Disclaimer: The contents of this article, including text and images, are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a medical service. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.