The New Government Food Plate, Precison Nutrition Style

Several months ago the USDA unveiled its new “My Plate” graphic, which replaced the pretty much widely panned vertical pyramid.  I wrote briefly about it in my post titled “The New Government Food Plate and Dairy.”  In my post I discussed my view of the pros and cons of the new visual and the recommendations it was making.   Today I want to revisit that, with a link to, and discussion of, John Berardi’s critique of MyPlate.  On Monday I introduced you to John Berardi and his nutritional coaching group called Precision Nutrition.  I highly recommend John and his staff if you are seeking help with weight loss.  I also recommend that anyone interested in nutrition take a look at his site  ~ there is a lot of great free information (see Articles and Blog).  Last week John posted on his blog “Precision Nutrition’s My Plate.”  John is a smart guy and I suggest you read his entire article.  For those pressed for time, I am going to summarize John’s main criticisms.

1.  The goal of MyPlate is to “remind Americans to eat “healthfully” and is meant to serve as a “guide” rather than to tell people specifically what to eat.  John argues that “healthfully” is vague and that it assumes Americans know what eating healthfully actually means.  He also feels the government doesn’t go far enough ~ that by not specifically telling people what not to eat that our obese population is getting off too easy.

2.  The USDA has multiple interests which makes it difficult to make everyone happy ~ they are charged with providing food guidelines for the American people, but they are also highly influenced by the food industry ~ these two goals are often at odds with each other.   So the USDA advises people to “eat less” and “avoid oversize portions.”  Again, more vague advice, but advice which might be meant to not piss off the food industry, whose goal is to sell more food, not less.

3.  The new food plate, while visually an improvement over the previous variations of a pyramid, encourages people to eat some of everything at every meal.   John does not believe that all food groups should be included with every meal & in particular he has a problem with the inclusion of grains and fruit at every meal.  Both of these represent carbohydrates, something which I believe has been pushed way too much on the unsuspecting American public (see my blog posts “The Great Fat Fiasco” and “The Great Fat Fiasco, part two“).  While carbohydrates are not bad, there is a time and a place for them (more on that below).

4.  John questions whether there is any science behind the development of the food plate.  John disagrees with the inclusion of dairy as its own food group, presumably to be included in every meal.  In my critique of the food plate I spent a considerable part of my post discussing dairy.  Like John, I agree it can be included in a healthy diet, but there are other sources of protein, calcium and carbohydrates that are often healthier options.  Dairy should not be singled out as necessary for every meal.  And like myself, John questions why “healthy fats” are not included on the plate (see my post “Food Myths” for more information on healthy fats).

5.  Finally, John believes there should be a distinction between fruit and fruit juice and vegetables and vegetable juice.  In both cases, the former is far better than the latter.  They should not be viewed as interchangeable.

So those are John’s basic criticisms of the food plate.  Much in line with what I had previously posted.  What I really like about John’s blog post, however, is that he goes one step further, and has developed his own version of what he thinks a better food plate would look like…so not just telling us what is wrong with MyPlate, but providing us a better, “Precision Nutrition MyPlate.”

John has developed 3 different plates ~ one he calls the “Anytime Plate” which is to be used when not exercising…in other words, for anyone who does exercise, this is what your plate should look like at meals that do not closely follow a workout.  For those who don’t exercise at all, this is what your plate should look like all the time.  It is made up of primarily non-starchy vegetables…I would say the plate is about 60-65% vegetables.  The balance is about 10-15% healthy fats and 25% protein.  Recommended drink is water or tea.  NO fruit, no grains.  Yep, if you don’t exercise, John recommends you avoid these foods entirely. 

The second plate is the “Post-Workout Plate.”  This is what John recommends to eat closely following intense exercise (note that walking the dog does not count as intense exercise).   John recommends that this be your largest meal of the day.  The plate is made up of half protein (yes, you read that right…protein helps rebuild your body after your intense workout) and half vegetables and fruit (with the veggies making up most of this…fruit is still to be minimal).  John then adds a “side” of starches ~ here is where you get to have rice, bread, potatoes, pasta.  Drink of choice is still water or tea.  There is no designated segment of the plate for “healthy fats,” but John says:

You’ll notice there isn’t much fat here. A higher fat meal post-workout slows the digestion and the assimilation of protein and carbohydrate. So we recommend getting most dietary fat during Anytime meals and most dietary carbohydrates during PW meals. Keep in mind we’re not suggesting you avoid fat. Just minimize added fat.

Also note that neither plate has a separate provision for “dairy.” John does not specifically address how dairy fits into his food plates, but I would assume you can include it, do some degree, under protein.  Do recognize that dairy also includes carbohydrates (from the lactose and from added sugars), so I would read labels and not include too many carbohydrates from dairy in your “anytime” meals (note that in the yogurt pictured at right carbohydrates are listed at 43 grams).

John’s final plate is for vegans.  It is a bit more complicated (as one would expect).  If you fall into this category I would suggest you look at his blog post for all the details. 

On John’s blog post he has included visuals of each of the plates, just as the government has done with MyPlate.  I think the visuals are really useful ~ it is easier to recall the visual than remember percentages for the food categories.  John has even provided a version of the plates that you can download and print.  I highly recommend that you read through his entire blog post…it’s good stuff!

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About Lisa Van Dore

I have lived in Sherborn, Dover and most recently North Walpole, for a total of 15 years (and counting). Having recently been through the process of selling a home and buying (and renovating) a new one, I understand the conflicting emotions of excitement and anxiety inherent in the process, whether you are a seller or buyer, whether this is your first home purchase or your tenth. I have a BA from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Indiana University. My early career found me working as a CPA, and later as the controller of Crate & Barrel. More recently I spent seven years running my own personal training business. I understand the hard work and dedication necessary to build a business and a reputation...most of my personal training clients came to me by referral and my first client was still with me when I decided to leave personal training. This speaks to the level of effort I put forth for my clients, week after week. On a more personal note, I raced triathlon for seven years and more recently completed my first half marathon. In my free time I enjoy cooking, reading, Maine, hiking and, in the fall, following college football...my teams are the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and Texas Christian University (Go Frogs!).
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