A Tale of Two Plates

Meet MyPlate. It takes the place of the USDA‘s outdated food pyramid that was so confusing to so many.  It was definitely a step in the right direction.  It doesn’t focus on servings, which can be confusing. Instead it shows how much of your plate a food group should cover.  But it leaves out a lot of important information.

And as Harvard Health Publications points out, “a hamburger or hot dog on a white bread bun with French fries and a milk shake could be part of a MyPlate meal – even though high red and processed meat intakes increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer, and high intakes of refined grains and potatoes make it hard to control weight.”

The USDA's baby.

The USDA’s baby.

Now I’d like to introduce you to MyPlate’s renegade sibling.  The Harvard School of Public Health’s Healthy Eating Plate.  The resemblance is there, but it’s what’s on it that’s a game changer. It spells out the types and quality of the food we should be eating.  Food industry lobbyists had nothing to say about it.


Here’s the big picture:

1.  Healthy oils are good for the heart.  Limit butter and trans fat.

2.  Vegetables and fruits, in all their colorful variety, should make up 1/2 your plate.  Potatoes don’t count.  They have the same effect on our blood sugar as consuming refined grains and sweet treats.

3.  Eat whole grains–like whole wheat breads and pastas.  Limit white bread and rice.

4.  Choose healthy proteins like fish, poultry, beans, and nuts.  Steer clear of red  and   processed meats because eating these on a regular basis can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer.

5.  It’s a water glass!  Limit dairy to 1 or 2 servings a day, and avoid juice and sugary drinks.

There’s even an icon to remind you to stay active.  Eating healthy foods and getting your body in motion is what it’s all about.

As a parent, I appreciate all the help I can get in making sense of the large amounts of science based nutrition out there.  I want the specifics.  And I want it from an organization with no commercial ties to the foods it’s suggesting I eat.  This is the plate I’ll be eating from…


Imagine Yourself Sugar Free!

Let’s pretend for a moment that sugar is good for you–loaded with vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids and everything healthful.   A tall icy glass of cola with every meal (or orange juice if you prefer–they have about the same amount of sugar). Syrup drenching your french toast and sausage for breakfast.  Luscious ice cream sandwiches for lunch.  An evening repast of tender honey baked ham and maple glazed carrots.  And don’t forget a hot fudge sundae for dessert.

Can I get a refill?

Can I get a refill?

Enjoying the visual?  Salivating?  Good.  Because imagining that you are devouring all that sugar can actually reduce how much of it you consume.

Believe it or not, you can fool yourself into eating less of the foods you shouldn’t be eating.  It’s called habituation.  Thinking about your cravings can actually decrease your desire for them.  It sounds counterintuitive, but it works.  Check out more about the study here.

I’m speaking from personal experience.  Taking that pretend bite, chewing and tasting it (in my imagination) helps me say no thanks to the real thing.  Imagining can make a pretty good substitute for the actual experience.

At this point I know I need to limit my sugar intake.  And I need to help Sam be mindful of his.  The American Heart Association guidelines for added sugars were specific.  With only 6 to 9 teaspoonfuls of added sugar a day (and less for younger children), we have to be selective about when and where we’re going to consume them.

Here are 3 more ways we’re minimizing sugar consumption in our household:

  1. Drink water.  Or natural seltzer.  Add a lemon slice or some mint leaves for interest.  Cut the soda from your diet.  Number one way to reduce sugar.  
  2. Eat fruit.  When you need a snack, grab an apple.  Pack fruit in your child’s lunch instead of cookies.  Dried fruit (in small quantity) makes a great after dinner treat.  I love a piece of mango or papaya.
  3. Put the sugar bowl away.  Stop adding sugar to foods by the teaspoonful.  Squeeze lemon into your tea.  Add sliced banana to cereal.  Spices like cinnamon also help food taste sweeter.

What do you do to hold back the sugar tidal wave at your house?


Pack an apple in your lunch.

Can I Offer You a Glass of…Fat?

Looking for another reason to think seriously about limiting your family’s sugar consumption?

New York City has enacted an anti-soda campaign to go along with a ban on super-size soda purchases.

I received this link from a fellow blogger who is not from New York.  Kind of graphic but a powerful message all the same.  No wonder it found its way to Australia. Thanks Little People Nutrition!  Click the You Tube link below if you have a strong stomach.

Man Drinking Fat. NYC Health Anti-Soda Ad. Are You Pouring on the Pounds?


After showing this to Sam, he looked a little green around the gills.  Mean mother that I am. Perhaps it really will work!

Is Sugar The New Fat?

How about laws regulating sugary purchases?  Should people be “carded” when buying a candy bar?  Is sugar really as bad as all that?

Let's see some I.D.

Let’s see some I.D.

Education and self-control aren’t working according to Robert Lustig, author of a new book about the evils of sugar, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar.  Sugar is addictive, and it is making us fat says Lustig.

And it’s everywhere.

Nearly 80% of the foods we can buy contain added sugars.  Pasta sauce, bread, crackers and salad dressing to name a few of the more unlikely suspects.

For years we’ve been told that we needed to reduce fat–not sugar consumption.  Non-fat and low-fat varieties of standard products became the norm, the haven of health we all sought.  But that’s old news apparently.

Acclaimed food activist and writer, Michael Pollen has a lot to say about it. The notion that fat is bad, particularly saturated fat, has been the public health message foisted on us since the ’70s.  According to Pollen, the science linking fat to inflammation and disease is tenuous at best.  Read his position here.

So what’s it to be–sugar or fat?  Will the real villain please stand up?

Personally, I think that sugar has the edge.  But it often goes hand in hand with fat in the form of highly processed “food”.  And what sugar lacks in nutrition, it makes up for in calories.  Ugh.  It’s serious enough that the American Heart Association has, for the first time ever, set sugar intake guidelines.

American Heart Association nutritional guidelines for added sugar:

  • Women should consume no more than 100 calories of added sugars (6 teaspoons)
  • Men should consume no more than 150 calories of added sugars (9 teaspoons)
  • Pre-teen and teens should consume no more than 5 to 8 teaspoons
  • Children 4-8 should consume no more than 130 calories (3 teaspoons).
  • Preschool children should consume no more than 170 calories (4 teaspoons)

The reality is about as far from that as you could imagine.  The average American consumes slightly more than 22 teaspoons of sugar every day.

Are you an average sugar consumer?

Are you an average sugar consumer?

Here’s a list of common food items that Rodale came up with to help us gain some perspective about total and added sugars:

Plain bagel: 5.05 grams of sugar, 4.8 of which are added

Whole-wheat bread (one slice): 5.57 grams of sugar, 5.0 of which are added

Regular sodas: 8.97 grams of sugar, all of it added

Fruit punch: 11.29 grams of sugar, 4.4 of which are added

Bowl of corn flakes: 6.11 grams of sugar, all of it added

Fruit-flavored yogurt: 19 grams of sugar, 11.4 of which are added

Italian salad dressing: 8.85 grams of sugar, 6.9 of which are added

Fruit cocktail canned in light syrup: 13.93 grams of sugar, 6.4 of which are added

Smooth peanut butter: 9.22 grams of sugar, 3.1 of which are added

Granola bars: 21.8 grams of sugar, 20.4 of which are added

Low-sodium spaghetti sauce: 11.57 grams of sugar, 6.5 of which are added.

While law enforcement of the new sugar guidelines might not be practical, it couldn’t hurt to police ourselves.  What do you think?

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Rice: Proceed With Caution

Due to the tremendous interest in Monday’s post on arsenic in rice, I felt it needed a follow-up.  There’s a rumor going around that organic rice has no arsenic.

I wondered about this too–but thought it odd that Consumer Reports wouldn’t have noted that in their findings. That would have been a simple way to deal with the problem, right?Just eat organic.  The truth of the matter is somewhat different.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration weighs in on this issue in an FAQ section about arsenic in rice on their website:

Do organic foods have less arsenic than non-organic foods? 

The FDA is unaware of any data that shows a difference in the amount of arsenic found in organic rice vs. non-organic rice. Because arsenic is naturally found in the soil and water, it is absorbed by plants regardless of whether they are grown under conventional or organic farming practices.

Currently, there is no federal maximum on arsenic in food. The FDA said it hopes to complete its assessment by the end of the year to set science-based limits.

That said, based on the current data, the FDA is not recommending changes by consumers regarding their consumption of rice and rice products.  They encourage consumers to eat a varied diet that includes other types of grains for the best possible nutrition.

From what I have read, however, there are no long term studies of low doses of arsenic. That would be something well worth knowing.

And because young children and infants are quite vulnerable the American Academy of Pediatrics has this to say:

While additional research, including the results of the ongoing FDA study, will be needed to provide detailed recommendations, the American Academy of Pediatrics believes that at the individual level, offering children a variety of foods, including products made from oats and wheat, will decrease children’s exposure to arsenic derived from rice. In addition, if parents raise questions about arsenic in juice products, they can be reminded that it is not necessary to offer children any juice in a well-balanced, healthy diet; and that for years the AAP has recommended limited intake of all sweet beverages, including juice.

Another finding is that rice grown in California has lower levels of arsenic overall than rice grown in south-central states where arsenic was used as a pesticide in the cotton fields.

Personally, when I buy rice in the future, I’ll purchase it from an environmentally conscious California based company from the San Joaquin Valley–Lundberg Family Farms.  They’ll be implementing a 3 year arsenic testing plan to not only measure levels of arsenic in their rice but also to determine what that means for the health of the consumer.  That’s means something to me.

There are no absolutes at this point.  I’d like to hear what other families plan on doing.  What do you think?

Do this one thing 50% of the time

Eat 100% whole grains.  At least half of the time.  Not in addition to refined grains but in place of them.  It’s that simple.

Is it really that important?

Eating whole grains will do a world of good by helping you maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure.  It also reduces the risk for a whole slew of diet related diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.

Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel.  All the stuff that’s good for us.  Dietary fiber, minerals, and many of the B vitamins.

Examples include:

  • whole wheat
  • oatmeal
  • bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • whole cornmeal
  • brown rice

Examples of refined grains:

  • white flour (most breads, crackers, pastas, etc.)
  • degerminated cornmeal
  • white rice.

Try this:  Replace one refined grain item at a time with a whole grain variety.  Give the family time to adjust their taste buds before introducing more new foods.

Mix it Up:  In pasta dishes, use half whole wheat and half regular pasta to win over the unconvinced.  Or half brown rice and half white rice.

Experiment:  Use a 50/50 ratio of whole wheat to white flour in baked goods.  I think baked treats, pancakes and pizza dough are a good place to start because sweetener and cheese are good distracters.

Think Outside the Box:  Lots of items come in 100% whole wheat including tortillas, wraps, crackers, cereal, etc.  And there are lots of lesser known whole grain options to try as well:  quinoa, farro, millet and spelt just to name a few.

Repeat to self, “Change is good especially where the health of my family is concerned.”

It’s not the end of the world or even the end of your favorite weekend breakfast scone.  I, for one, would never give up our local bakery’s stellar sourdough bread. I just won’t make it a regularly scheduled part of my day.  It’s a treat.  And when I take that first delectable bite–with real butter–I’ll savor it.

It’s not about giving anything up, except perhaps a dress size or a diet related disease.  And I expect that after a while you’ll come to love whole grains, not just because they’re good for you, but because they taste great.  Remember, it’s a learning curve.

I love the bottom line.  We don’t have to give up our refined pleasures–just moderate them.  You’ll enjoy them all the more because of it.  The goal is 50% of 100% whole grains–or more if you’re really motivated.

This is math even I can do, and that’s saying something.

3 Ways to Ensure Your Child Doesn’t Have a Drinking Problem

We all probably identify fast food, potato chips, and candy as some of the bad boys contributing to the current obesity epidemic.  But would you believe juice?  Really?

A genuine wolf in sheep’s clothing, juice has a lot in common with another oft consumed beverage, the much maligned soda.  Juice and soda.  Soda and juice.  What could they possibly have in common?

Sugar, that’s what…

Pediatric obesity specialist, Robert Lustig, said in the HBO documentary Weight of the Nation, “There is no difference. When you take fruit and squeeze it, you throw the fiber in the garbage. That was the good part of the fruit. The juice is nature’s way of getting you to eat your fiber.”

Right about now you’re probably shaking your head in disbelief.  We were raised on the stuff.   We believed it to be a nutritious alternative to sugar-sweetened drinks–health in a glass.  Full of vitamins and minerals…  Well, some anyway. Still skeptical?

An 8 ounce glass of either this root beer or this apple juice contains nearly the same amount of sugar–the juice edging the soda by a gram.  That’s almost 8 teaspoons of sugar.  Yikes!

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:

  • 0-6 months: no juice
  • 6 months-1 year: 1-3 oz
  • 1-6 years: 4-6 oz
  • 6-18 years: 8-12 oz

It’s really easy to drink way more sugar than you think so pay attention to amount.  Calories add up quickly.  Choose 100% fruit juice and beware of “cocktails”, “punches”, and “drinks”. This is a good indicator that sugar has been added to the mix. In other words, read the label!

And 100% or not, try diluting your juice with some plain or carbonated water to make a real thirst quenching drink with less sugar.  Have you heard of the Sodastream?  It makes sparkling/seltzer water in seconds.  It’s going on my Christmas wish list this year.

Answer the following questions to find out if your child has a drinking problem.

Does your child eat a well-balanced diet including fresh fruits and vegetables?

Is your child’s mouth generally free of cavities?

Is your child at a healthy weight?

Hopefully, you answered yes to each question. If so, then just follow the juice guideline recommendations.  If the answers were no, then it might be time to go on the wagon.  Cutting way back or even eliminating juice would be a good idea.

Bottom line. Should you eat an orange or drink it? Given a choice opt for the real deal. A piece of fruit will give you more nutrition and fewer calories. Treat juice as a treat and not as a liquid replacement for water.

What your mother always told you . . .

Did she tell you to clean up your room? Turn that music down? Take out the garbage? Possibly.

But I’m absolutely certain that at some point in time she told you to eat your vegetables!

And I’m quite sure that you worry about the very same thing with your kids. After all, eating fruits and vegetables provides lots of vitamins, minerals, and fiber which are essential to good health. Not to mention they help fill you up without a lot of fat and calories and reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases to boot.

So, imagine a circle representing your dinner plate. Draw an imaginary line through the middle of the circle bisecting it into two equal halves. Now, load up one half with imaginary fruits and vegetables. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) designed this easy to follow graphic reminder of what we should be eating.

5 servings a day, minimum… More is better… This is the standard, one size fits all recommendation. For more specific numbers based on age and gender check HERE.

It might seem like a challenge to fit them all in, but don’t feel overwhelmed. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.

1. One or two at every meal. Servings that is… And try one at snack time for carbohydrate energy with protein for holding power.

2. Double up! Instead of taking an extra slice of garlic toast have a second serving of salad for example.

3. What’s growing in your area? Shop in season. Vegetables will taste better and, as a result, will be easier to consume. Visit the farmer’s market, roadside stand, or check out locally grown produce at the grocery store.

How do you fill your plate with fruits and vegetables?