Garden, Plant, Cook!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Greening -- Weighing In On "Choose My Plate" - Don't "Negotiate" The System

Dear Folks,

Try to put politics aside while you consider my thoughts on the new food recommendations from the USDA.

First, anytime, anyone tries to help you make better food decisions, that is a good thing, as long as they do not require you to join, commit, or be penalized if you don't do "x" etc.  That means you do not have agree with everything the USDA and First Lady suggest for better health -- to take advantage of the free information on the new visual help-tool called "Choose My Plate". (CMP) And I personally have a lot of problems with some decisions by the USDA and FDA, but this post is about a good tool.

I decided to weigh in on the subject because the CMP reflects my regular mantra of putting a rainbow on your dinner plate (growing your own veggies and fruits when you can, of course), and also because Jillian Michaels of "Biggest Loser" fame weighed in on her thoughts that the new visual presumed the American people were stupid.  I disagree because of our human need to 'tweak' 'game' or 'negotiate' something we think is a good idea, but we want to do it our way -- and miraculously achieve the same results!

Let me be the first to admit that I am overweight and out of shape.  I blame some of it on my back injury last summer, but the truth is I do not get enough exercise*, and my comfort food of choice is cheese and bread.  It does not matter that I can make my own cheese and bread sometimes and control the ingredients.  It matters that I do not follow the rainbow principle "most of the time" in its intended form.

So, I tweak the system, by saying to myself - I will have more salad with dinner than normal or I will make sure that I have cut up fruit and vegetables for easy access, so I have the instant ability to do the rainbow thing.  But I do not personally adhere, right now, to the rainbow principle at each meal.

So when the Choose My Plate visual came out - I said now that is something I can see people being able to use, easily, and not game it -- and, also give me personally a visual aid - I'm going to put it on my place-mate!

You know the first thing that had to be clarified on what the plate symbol was?  The size of the plate - oh my - the whole portion distortion topic of the last decade took on new meaning because the CMP plate is 9 inches - not 10, 11, 12 or the super-sized oval "platters" used as plates at many restaurants.

What is it with us that if we dine out we have to get our monies worth by getting a serving of food that is at least 50% more than a 'normal' meal or greater!

A salad / dessert plate is 6 to 7.5 inches.  Many nutritionists recommend a person trying to lose weight move down to a salad/dessert plate to help adjust portions.  Visually you do not feel like you are depriving yourself.  Conversely putting a normal portion on a huge plate makes it look like you are depriving yourself.  It is all in the mind.

Many paper plates come in 9 inch sizes, including some of the divided type.  If you want to try experimenting get some of the divided plates and instead of putting the protein in the big compartment, put it in one the small ones and you will have an idea of what the real protein portion is.  These kind of divided plates rarely have more than 3 compartments.  Put vegetables in most of the largest compartment with some fruit to fill in, and your grains in the other small compartment.  There you can visually see what a serving looks like in the CMP plate suggestion.

The Bigger Picture

I cannot express enough about the inclusion of lots of vegetables and fruits in your meal planning.  Choose seasonal when you can - not out of season - if you want something that is not in season, then choose frozen (1st choice) or canned (2nd choice).  Why?  Because the frozen and canned veggies etc. are picked when ripe and processed immediately.  Fresh out of season produce is simply not as nutrient dense.

If you and your family take a lot of supplements to get your vitamins and minerals, instead of eating the vegetables, fruits and grains which contain them in a more useable form - are you not making a poor health choice?  Think about it.

Here is the real issue - IF YOU want to make better choices you have to stop 'gaming yourself' and try to focus on what you want to achieve.

"I don't like vegetables..I don't eat grains I only like potatoes...I need more protein than it looks like I will get."  Try to get over something that has not tasted good by preparing it a different way.  Roasted or grilled vegetables have wonderful taste because the high heat brings out the sugars.  If mushy rice has turned you off of grains, try barley or quinoa which are nutty and have lots of texture (also learn how to cook rice properly!)

Grains in combination with other protein provide more protein total than the individual components.  Non-meat exceptions are favorite bean and rice combinations - or similar.  A peanut butter and jelly sandwich on good wheat bread is a complete protein.  It may be high caloried but it is a good source of protein and fiber.

As a child I did not like most vegetables because they were canned and tasted like baby food, nor did I like onions, mushrooms, avocado or sea food other than tuna.  Most of that had to do with our limited economics and some of it had to do with a child's food experiences. A single avocado came into our house about every two years for my dad as a treat and he once gave me a taste - since it was not sweet I instantly disliked it.  I could eat a half a head of lettuce or cabbage because it was raw, but all other vegetables were not of interest to me at all -- the exception was seasonal corn on the cob - oh boy.  Fast forward to my willingness as a young adult and then on through the years to give something I did not like before another try, or two (sometimes it took a different cooked version of something to get me to like something).  Once I decided I liked something I tried different was of preparing it.  I still prefer most of my vegetables raw, but I have discovered wonderful ways to prepare many so they do not taste like baby food.  (Deane's preference for cooked-too-death -- my term -- vegetables presents some challenges and always surprises me since he grew up in farming country -- but it was what he grew up loving.  We have a running joke about "well done" when it comes to cookies too -- he makes a great chocolate chip oatmeal cookie - he has to take mine out 15-20 minutes before his because his preferred done level are hockey-pucks!)

And there are still things I don't like but I have increased my food options thousands of a percent because I was willing to try something I did not like before.  And, I completely understand the 'ick' factor for some people with some foods -- I have them too either because of associated stories or where the food might come from.

Give good-for-you vegetables, grains and fruits another try if you have not liked them in the past - your body will reward you with more energy and over-all health.

And, finally, yes I know, some meals are served in bowls.  But, you know what, a typical soup/cereal bowl holds exactly 2 cups and 2 cups fills a 9 inch plate.  A bowl of chili, beans and rice, thick stew or soup would be 2 cups and equivalent to a plate of food.  Half a bowl of salad with a protein topper would be equivalent to a plate of food.

By the way, the serving size of most cereals is 1 cup or there abouts, but check the protein and fiber content.  Using my nutrient density formula (protein and fiber grams added and divided into serving calorie) corn flakes come in at a very low nutrient density (higher the number the lower the nutrient density) before milk is added.

Corn Flakes factor Protein 2 Fiber 1 = 3 Calories 100 = Factor 34
Kashi Golean Crunch Cereal Protein 9 Fiber 8 = Calories 190 = Factor 11

Look at the amount of protein and fiber for each of those - before milk is added.

Some ads will point you to the calorie content, or the total number of vitamins and minerals in the cereal - do not let yourself be mis-directed from the point of having cereal and milk for breakfast:  1) it is supposed to give your a good nutrient basis for the day, and 2) cereals have become "THE" breakfast food as opposed to PART of breakfast, so it is even more important that you choose nutrient dense options.

Total Cereal likes to point out all the vitamins and minerals they added back in to the cereal after starting with less than whole grains to begin with, so it winds up being a vitamin / mineral pill only with little or no protein or fiber.  It is not only not economical but like eating a donut for breakfast without the taste satisfaction!  (Meaning with a donut however NOT good for you as a breakfast food you get a mouth-feel satisfaction.)

If you missed my post on using the nutrient density formula go to my November 2008 post:

Hope this is helpful to you in meal planning that makes healthy sense.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

*This week, I just joined a gym nearby and have high hopes of both strengthening my back and loosing the weight.