I’ll spill the tea today on the food groups of a whole food plant based diet and how to break the confusion of what should be on your plate.
One tool that I actually like for this is the Power Plate method. This diagram was developed by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). I’ll place a link to this diagram in the show notes. The Power Plate is a visual representation of what your plate should look like when consuming a nutritious plant based meal.
Most of us learned about the basics of nutrition when we were in grade school and taught our food groups.
I’ll give you a little history lesson here. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published its first dietary recommendations in 1894. Specific necessary vitamins and minerals had not even been discovered just yet.
The first published guidelines were suggested recommendations for American males; based upon the content of protein, carbohydrate, fat, and mineral matter as it was called in the guidelines. In 1916 more specific guidelines for children were developed in the USDA Food Guide called Food for Young Children. These guidelines were the start of what we recognize as the 5 food groups and included the categories of milk and meat, cereals, vegetables and fruits, fats and fatty foods, and sugars and sugary foods.
Let’s pause for a moment. I find it totally intriguing that in the early 1900s there was an entire food group dedicated to sugar. My kids may hear me present this guidance and long to go back in time to keep the sugar recommendation in our current guidelines.
But let’s keep in mind that during this time period, many of the guidelines were based upon basic, cheap, nutritional needs. In the 1920s and early 1930s, the economic constraints of the Depression influenced dietary guidance, and another large determining factor for the guidelines was based upon the need for the preservation of food without refrigeration; and the need for adequate food safety measures. Most Americans did not yet have freezer compartments in their refrigerators, making food storage and safety of critical importance.
Ok, so let’s go back to the food groups. Over the next few decades, we went from 5 food groups to 7 food groups, yes 7; to 4 food groups, back to 5 to 6 food groups, to the food pyramid which some of you may remember from the 1990s, to now over more than 100 years later from the original guidelines; a more detailed Dietary Guidelines for Americans which is an entire booklet of dietary guidance that’s published by the USDA.
Most of us have heard some version of the 5 recommended food groups through the years which have included fruits, vegetables, grains, Protein foods, and dairy. If you go online to myplate.gov they’ll show you these 5 food groups on a plate and show you a number of ways to meet these guidelines. For those who are wondering, no, the recommendation for the sugar food group is no longer there. Now, there are some good recommendations on the My Plate method including recommendations for consuming a vegetarian diet.
However, the problem with the My Plate method is that it's not actually set up for an optimal diet to prevent and reverse preventable chronic diseases.
For example, under the My Plate recommendations, dairy has its own food group; and, on these guidelines for My Plate, it is specifically stated that one should consume anywhere from 1 and ⅔ cups of dairy (if you’re a toddler) to 3 cups of dairy (if you’re a child over age 9 or an adult) every day. There is another specific statement with the dairy guideline that states that non-dairy plant based kinds of milk with the exception of soymilk, are not included as a part of the Dairy Group because their nutrition content is not similar to dairy milk and fortified soy milk.
So the USDA wants you to be sure that you are getting your dairy from a cow. This recommendation is mind boggling even just considering the number of individuals who are lactose intolerant and will actually get physically ill from this dairy recommendation. We discussed the prevalence of lactose intolerance in a previous episode. I’ll remind you that Lactose intolerance affects many populations with those of East Asian descent having the highest rates of lactose intolerance, followed by Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, and Caucasians.
Now let me give you some cream based tea about dairy and chronic disease. Dairy has been recommended as an added part of our diets for many years due to our body’s need for protein, calcium, and fat. Calcium is necessary for building strong bones but you don’t need milk to get calcium. Protein is necessary for building muscle and healthy cells but you don’t need milk to get protein. And, a certain amount of fat is necessary for energy and supporting cell function but once again, you don’t need milk to get an adequate amount of fat.
You can get a sufficient amount of calcium from kale, broccoli, other dark leafy greens, and beans. And, you can get calcium without the high amounts of saturated fat, cholesterol, and added sugar that is found in cow's milk.
You can get a sufficient amount of protein from beans, nuts, and whole grains. And, you can get protein without saturated fat and cholesterol.
We don’t need much fat in our diet anyway. But you can certainly get a sufficient amount of fat from nuts, seeds, and beans without disease promoting saturated fat, cholesterol, and added sugar that is found in cow’s milk.
Some studies have linked high intakes of cow’s milk with an increased risk of bone fractures. A 2014 Swedish study showed that women who consumed more than 3 glasses of milk per day had an increased risk of bone fracture.
Cow’s milk has been linked to Type 1 (autoimmune type) diabetes. A 2012 article published in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal; showed that up to a 30% reduction in the incidence of type 1 diabetes mellitus is reported for infants who exclusively breastfed for at least 3 months, thus avoiding exposure to cow milk protein. Cow’s milk protein is commonly found in infant formula. The theory is that a component within cow’s milk protein causes an immune response leading to an increased risk for the development of type 1 diabetes.
Dairy based products like cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and dairy based salad dressings are high in cholesterol and saturated fat. Diets high in cholesterol and saturated fat increase one’s risk for heart disease.
So, this is where the Power Plate comes in. The Power Plate turns the My Plate method on its head and actually gives you healthful, disease preventing recommendations for your plate.
The Power Plate contains four food groups: Fruits, Grains, Legumes, and Vegetables. Simple, right?
Let’s break this down further.
For the fruit group, be sure to consume fruits with the skin on them to get a good source of fiber from your fruit. Think of fruits like berries, apples, pears, peaches, and plums. Other fruits without the skin on them are also good sources of vitamins and minerals and are hydrating to your body.
For the grain group, think whole grains. You want to get a sufficient amount of fiber in your diet to keep you full prevent overeating and get the benefits of reducing cholesterol and optimizing digestion. Think brown rice, whole wheat pasta, millet, barley, buckwheat, and whole grain bread or tortillas.
For the Legumes group, enjoy a variety of beans and peas. This group will provide you with an excellent source of fiber, calcium, iron, zinc, and protein. Think black eyed peas, tofu, edamame, black beans, lentils, green peas, and bean based pastas.
For the Vegetable group, think dark leafy greens like turnip greens, collard greens, kale, or spinach; think cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower; think squash, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin. This food group will provide you with an adequate amount of beta-carotene and Vitamin C for your immune system, fiber, and a number of other vitamins and minerals.
And, if you are aiming for weight loss, start here, as I have not come across any studies linking weight gain to too much kale.
And that’s it, that's the Power Plate. So as you can see, it isn’t complicated to start eating in a whole food plant based manner.
And the exciting thing about eating using the Power Plate method is that it can be adapted for everyone to gain health benefits.
For many of us, food is tied to culture. I’m from the South and soul food is more than just about the food, it's about the family, the community, and even the stories that are passed down with the meal.
We can keep these cultural traditions and maintain good health so that we’re around even longer to share them with one another. For the traditional collard greens that we make, instead of adding pork or turkey, use vegetable broth, chopped fresh onions, and peppers, and add them to your pot of collard greens, add fresh pressed garlic to further enhance the flavor.
For the traditional baked beans that we make, instead of adding bacon, use a dash of liquid smoke. And for the traditional peach cobbler, try fresh peaches instead of syrupy canned ones, try whole grain oats as a topping instead of processed white flour, leave out the butter, and use flax seeds instead to give a plant based egg consistency. We can have our traditions and be healthy at the same time!
Now, let’s transition over to our Ask The Expert segment.
In today’s Ask The Expert segment; our question was submitted by Shaunna. Her question is “What are vitamin-rich foods that are less expensive?”
Thanks for submitting this question Shaunna!
Now let me give you this bargain basement tea! This question was right on time after today’s discussion regarding the history of our food groups and guidelines given to us by the USDA with their basis being founded with affordability in mind due to our country being in a depression at the time when some of these guidelines came about.
One of the many myths I hear from people regarding a plant based way of eating is that it costs too much to eat plant based. But my response is always; it costs too much to not eat plant based and here’s why. You can get a 2-pound bag of dry black beans from your local grocery store for less than $3. Comparatively, 2 pounds of ground beef will cost you at least twice this amount and that’s not counting if you want a specific cut, grass fed, or any other varieties of ground beef that’s touted to be a healthier version of beef.
Let’s compare the vitamins and nutrients you’d gain from these two foods.
Black beans will provide you with potassium, iron, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, folate, and magnesium.
Ground beef will provide you with iron, phosphorus, zinc, and B12. Now, don’t get too excited about B12 because B12 is a supplement. It's found in meat because animals receive it as a supplement in their food. You too can take a B12 supplement, and you likely should take a B12 supplement, especially when consuming a plant based diet; but be sure to discuss this first with your doctor.
Now let's talk about the other costs of these two foods and why it’s more costly to consume meat than it is to consume a plant based diet.
Let’s talk about the cost of your health. Black beans won’t promote disease in your body.
But the additional cost of your ground beef will be the price of heart disease from its high amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat, and the price of increased risks of heart attacks and strokes from the plaque deposits it contributes to your blood vessels.
So pound for pound plants are the clear winner here! You’ll save money and lower your risk for disease.
The Essence of Health is in You!