I recently started creating curriculum for a program and was doing research when I realized “fats” are nowhere to be found on The USDA MyPlate. Long ago, I threw MyPlate out the window. Why? Because I don’t think it promotes a nutritionally “balanced” advance, and because I take an “all foods fit” approach.
Since my early dietitian days, I have told my brain to forget MyPlate and what the USDA proclaims as the “five food groups,” because there was so much “wrong” with it. To re-educate myself about the messages kids receive, years later, and to find the food groups are supposed to be “proteins, dairy, grains, fruits and vegetables” really irks me. Where are the fats? Where do the “fun foods” fit? Where does it show that proteins and dairy are BOTH protein, or even that milk, yogurt, grains, some vegetables, and fruits are all carbs? There is absolutely nothing wrong with all of those groups being carbohydrates, just merely that the way these are "grouped" actually doesn't consider much about the way our bodies use them. This approach to nutrition is limited and limiting, and fitting it all onto one plate just doesn’t make sense.
Here’s what should really be on your mind when you think about your plate:
1. You don’t need to check off every category at every meal.
We shouldn’t be expected to always fit every kind of food on our plate. A plate can be balanced in many ways: we can have veggies and pasta and butter, or we can have salmon and white rice and strawberries. To me, both of those are balanced, but if you tried fitting it into the MyPlate categories – well, you would be missing a bunch or told you are having “extra.”
2. You don’t need to demonize any food group, especially fats.
Fat is certainly not “extra.” We need to change the message we are sending to our communities. Fat is necessary. Fat is called a "macronutrient" for a reason. Fats supply energy. Fats help us absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fat helps with insulation. Many fats help to reduce inflammation in our bodies or improve cognitive function. Many fats also help to lower cholesterol levels. Without fats, we can’t produce our happiness neurotransmitter, dopamine. Fat is vital.
3. You can find a place for all foods on your plate, including dessert.
Where on MyPlate does it say it’s okay to eat a cookie? MyPlate excludes sugar and dessert. Hello, people! This message teaches kids from a young age that they can’t have a cookie. This creates this good food vs. bad food mentality and disordered eating right off the bat. Sugars break down into glucose molecules. The body knows how to digest it. Often times, kids and people in general end up eating excess sugar because they start having a horrible relationship with it. Teaching kids it’s okay to have it, will actually help to keep them healthier AND happier… did you ever think of that?
4. You don’t need to look to outside sources to tell you what to eat.
Let your body tell you what to put on your plate. Let your body decide what and how much it needs. I am all for nutrition education. I am all for understanding what food is made out of and what benefits various foods can give, but I am not for twisting that information and turning it into food rules. It's okay to get educated. You can use your nutrition knowledge when making food decisions, but that shouldn’t be the ultimate decision maker. Children are born intuitive eaters. They make independent food decisions as to eat when they are hungry and they know how much they need. A message like this is how we help children to become rule following, disconnected, dependent and restricted around food.
I’m lucky to have the opportunity over the next several months to teach our youth about ALL KINDS OF FOODS and body acceptance. For those I can’t reach, I hope they learn that fats and cookies aren’t extra…they fit.
If you or your child, teen, or young adult are interested in learning more about nutrition and how to have a healthy relationship with food, I would love to work with you! Please reach out to JuliENERGYnutrition@gmail.com or call 954.655.8543.