March is National Nutrition Month, and March 12 is National Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day. So around this time of year, I get a lot of emails offering special deals on promotional items like nutrition posters, handouts, food models, games, books, etc. I rarely purchase them because their message is so far removed from my own nutrition philosophy, but I still look at them. One of the "teaching tools" promos I received this week was the banner to the left. It's the USDA MyPlate logo covered with specific foods from each of the categories: grains, fruits, vegetables, protein, and dairy.
I've never been a fan of MyPlate and wasn't a fan of MyPyramid either (really the same information in a different graphic), and it upset me to see the possible combinations of food I"m supposed to be promoting as a "healthy meal" for individuals across the board with few exceptions (i.e., less protein and sodium for people with renal disease). To anyone who argues that MyPlate does not constitute a high-carbohydrate diet (I've seen this argued by dietitians and CDEs many times), I take issue with that claim. Half the plate is automatically made up of high-carb food from the fruit and grains sections. The vegetables could be low in carbohydrates, but not if corn, carrots, and peas are chosen. (Quick aside: At a local restaurant, I recently ordered steak tips without the noodles. My server asked if I wanted extra vegetables. Instead of asking what the vegetables were (always ask!), I said yes. Of course, I was served corn and peas.) Most protein options are low-carb, but legumes are listed as being interchangeable with meat, poultry, and fish. The dairy on the side of the plate could be cheese, but most people looking at the blue circle would probably believe that milk is the best choice. And really, who could blame them? Also, fat isn't anywhere on the plate at all. At least the Food Pyramid used to have a tiny sliver of yellow to represent fats and oils. And according to MyPlate, cheese is considered empty calories because it contains solid fat.
I understand that some people can eat according to MyPlate and stay healthy; several members of my own family can and do eat a large portion of their diet as carbohydrates and maintain a good weight, normal blood sugar, and good energy levels. But for many others, including people with diabetes and other metabolic issues, this plate just isn't appropriate. When I read diabetes magazines, the recommendation most CDEs make is to follow MyPlate or to "eat the same balanced diet recommended for everyone else" -- essentially, to follow MyPlate.
MyPlate is based on the USDA's Dietary Guidelines, which are set to be revised in 2015 by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee. So far, I've heard that they will likely place an emphasis on plant-based diets, the Mediterranean Diet, and the Dash Diet. From the evidence I've reviewed (both anecdotal and many well-designed studies), these three diets are too high in carbohydrates for many people, with the exception of a low-carb version of the Mediterranean Diet such as Dr. Steve Parker's Low Carb Mediterranean Diet and Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet. So why isn't carbohydrate restriction being given consideration as well in formulating the nutrition guidelines designed for the entire US population?
Dr. Richard Feinman and Judy Barnes Baker have drafted a petition to change the way the Dietary Guidelines are created by having independent experts review all available nutrition-related studies in order to formulate guidelines that are truly evidence based. The petition needs 100,000 signatures by March 20. As of today, it has only 943. I'd like to ask all of my readers to please sign the petition (if you haven't done so already) and share the link with others who disagree with the one-size-fits-all recommendations in the US Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate. It only takes a couple of minutes to register and sign, so please do it. The only way we can change nutrition policy for the better is by taking action like this. Thank you very much.
Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE