See it clearly
The new American plate
Healthy, but tasty Story by Betty Shimabukuro
Nutritional analyses by Joanie Dobbs
Exploring New Concepts
Part 1 of this story was told back in March, when we dissected a couple of typical plate lunches and a mega-muffin to show what you really get when you stick food in your mouth.The concept was serving size and getting a grip on the Food Pyramid. For example: The pyramid recommends servings from the bread group of six (for most women) to 11 (for teen boys) daily, but what's a serving? It's a single slice of bread or its equivalent. So a calorie-packed mega-muffin, the type they sell by the tray at Costco, represents six servings -- an entire day's allotment for people on the lower end of the scale.
Enough reliving the past. Suffice it to say, the breakdowns were enlightening -- frightening, in fact -- for many readers, enough so that a half-year later we are revisiting the subject.
This time we're using a few fast-food meals to illustrate the breakdowns. You can see them on this page, along with the numbers of servings they represent, and what you get in terms of fat and calories when you suck them down.
The point is not to be preachy -- if you feel life is better with the 1,000-plus calories of the Ultimate Bacon Cheeseburger in it, by all means have one. If you think the Food Pyramid is bunk and have chosen instead a diet low in carbs or high in something else, that's fine, too.
This 6-inch sub is on Subway's list of sandwiches containing 6 g of fat or less. But you must read the small print. The sandwich comes in at 11 g of fat, unless you order it without cheese, mayonnaise or oil. It's still a reasonable meal, accounting for a little less than a single serving size of meat, by Food Pyramid standards, and more than a serving of vegetables. The bread, though, totals 2-1/2 servings. If you ate it all, you'd consume 390 calories, 50 mg cholesterol, 670 mg sodium, 26 g protein, 46 g carbohydrates.
The Subway Turkey
and Cheese Sandwich
Or, look at it this way ...Each box represents an average woman's daily allotment of servings from these food groups. The gray boxes show the servings covered by this meal.
Bread/grain (2-1/2) Meat (3/4) Fruit/vegetable (1-1/2) Dairy (1/3) Fat (11g)*
* The Food Pyramid doesn't specify portions of fat, but recommends a limit of 30-50 grams. Here they are divided into portions of 10 grams each.
Whatever the case, it's a good idea to understand how to size up a meal. Just about any eating plan requires some control over the size of the portions you eat -- whether your goal is weight loss or overall health. In some areas (the bad ones) you want to limit the servings you consume; in others (fruits and vegetables) you want to be sure you meet a minimum.
That said, we now turn to a group that's a bit more strident about right and wrong, the American Institute for Cancer Research, which is actively fighting the battle of the bulging portion size.
Over the last decade, fast-food outlets have been pushing "meal deals" and "supersizes," offering a larger sandwich with a larger portion of fries and a gigantic drink -- in a convenient package at a value price. "Obesity became an epidemic in this country at the same time portion sizes grew enormous," the institute states in one of its brochures.
The vegetables are a bit boring -- mostly lettuce, but this is a way to make real progress on your 5-a-day veggie requirement.
McDonald's McSalad Shaker
Fruit/vegetable (4) Dairy (1/2) Fat (6g)*
"More is not necessarily better," says Melanie Polk, director of nutrition education at the institute. "It might be cheaper, but it's not better."
Even at full-service restaurants, plates are bigger. Literally. The institute has measured restaurant plates and determined they've gone from a nationwide average 10-1/2 inches to 12 inches across.
"As all of these things have happened, Americans have gotten bigger, too," Polk says.
There is no bad guy here. Restaurants do what they gotta do. "Nobody is forcing you to eat this much," Polk says. "You can order a smaller portion, you can ask for a half-portion, you can ask for a doggie bag. You can just order a salad and an appetizer."
What to do?
The institute suggests the New American Plate: Meals that emphasize whole grains and a variety of vegetables, with meat playing a far reduced role. Think of meat, in fact, as a condiment, Polk says.
Whoa, that's pretty radical, but don't try to do it all at once. Downsize gradually, from the typical meat-starch-single-veggie meal to a plate with half the meat and twice the veggies, then to a plate with even less meat, a couple kinds of vegetables and whole-grain starch instead of white rice.
Eat this whole baby and you'll ingest 1,020 calories, 71 g fat (26 g of those the evil saturated kind), 210 mg cholesterol, 1,740 mg sodium. The red boxes below show how much this sandwich exceeds DAILY standards.
Jack in the Box Ultimate
Bacon Double Cheeseburger
Bread/grain (3) Meat (3) Fruit/vegetable (0) Dairy (1/2) Fat (71g)*
"We're really talking about transitions," she says. "If you start out with a big hunk of meat and start decreasing that amount, you work toward what's comfortable for you. Eventually, you may just be using meat as a condiment, rather than as the main focus of your meal."
What she doesn't suggest is too much counting of fat grams and calories.
"The exact amount you should eat is individual," she says. "Start with what you are eating -- if it's 2 cups of rice, go to 1-1/2. You may never reach the single serving size of a 1/2 cup, but if you see results, that works for you."
Then try to maintain that portion size from meal to meal. Many nutritionists suggest visual clues: Measure your optimum portion of rice or meat against your fist or something you can visualize, like a deck of cards.
"Some of this is trial and error," Polk says. "But people will see that when they increase their physical activity and/or -- hopefully it's and -- scale down their portion sizes, they're going to see the numbers on the scale going down."
Most of what you get here is from the bread group of the Food Pyramid -- 4 servings. You also get a full serving of dairy in the cheese, plus a half-serving of both vegetables and meat. The real danger here is the fat. A typical 8-ounce slice contains 25 g fat (8 of those grams saturated). This nearly wipes out the daily fat allowance for the average woman in a single meal. An active man eating 2 slices would hit his allowance of 50 g a day. This slice also weighs in at 630 calories, with 40 mg cholesterol and more than 1,600 mg sodium.
Pizza Hut Pan
The USDA suggests these visual aids for judging a single serving:
See it clearly
Meat (3 ounces): A deck of playing cards
Cheese (1-1/2 ounces): 6 dice
Vegetables (1/2 cup): A rounded handful or half a baseball
Leafy greens (1 cup): 1 baseball or an average adult fist
Apple/orange (1 medium fruit): A baseball
Rice, pasta (1/2 cup): Half a baseball
Peanut butter (2 tablespoons): A golf ball (peanut butter is in the meat group)
CaloriesThe Food Pyramid sets these calorie guides:
1,600: For most women and older adults
2,200: Kids, teen girls, active women and most men
2,800: Teen boys and active men
ServingsFirst, figure out what calorie group you're in (above). If you're in the first group, go with the smaller serving amount, and vice versa:
Dairy: 2-3 servings
Meat: 2-3 (includes beans, eggs, nuts)
Bread: 6-11 (incudes rice, pasta, cereal)
FatThe pyramid only advises "use sparingly."
The usual recommendation is 30-50 grams per day.
The American Institute for Cancer Research suggests rethinking portion sizes to reduce the amount of meat on the plate in favor of cancer-fighting vegetables and grains
The New American Plate
The Traditional Plate
The typical American meal has an 8- to 10-ounce portion of meat, fish or poultry, with a big spoonful of starch (usually not whole-grain) and a side dish of vegetables (fresh if you're lucky).
The Transitional Plate
The meat is down-sized to 3 ounces, starch is a whole grain and vegetables are of more variety.
The New American Plate
Note the diminished role of meat. Plus, the institute would like to see Americans increase their vegetable intake to 9 servings.
Whatever way you adjust your diet, never forget that there is supposed to be joy in eating.
should still taste good
"Very often nutritionists are looked upon as people who are so oriented toward health that they forget that food should be tasty," says Melanie Polk of the American Institute for Cancer Research.
"Once you start considering health over taste you get into trouble. Our approach is toward food that tastes good and is also healthful."
Here are some institute recipes that emphasize cancer-fighting foods over meats:
Cook pasta according to package directions, rinse and drain.
East-Meets-West Casserole8 ounces bow-tie pasta (preferably whole wheat)
Non-stick cooking spray
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1 cup green onion, chopped
1-1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 cup asparagus, in 1-inch pieces
1 orange, peeled, seeded and diced
1 cup cooked chicken in bite-size pieces ( or substitute canned black beans, drained and rinsed)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 cup orange juice
2 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Combine sauce ingredients and set aside.
Coat a skillet with cooking spray and place over medium heat. Sauté garlic and ginger until a pale gold, about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add onion and mushrooms and sauté, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Add asparagus and sauté 2 minutes more.
Re-stir sauce and add to skillet. Cook, stirring constantly, until vegetables are tender and the sauce thickens, 1-2 minutes. Add pasta, orange pieces and chicken (or beans), stirring lightly.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 340 calories, 8 g fat.Combine beans and vegetables.
Southwest Salad1 16-ounce can kidney or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 cup green or red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup tomato, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (optional)
4 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1-1/2 teaspoon chile powder
1/8 teaspoon sugar
Dash salt (optional)
Whisk together vinegar, oil, chile powder, sugar and salt (if using it). Pour over the vegetable mixture.
Cover and chill for at least a half hour so the flavors will blend. Can be refrigerated for 1-2 days. Stir before serving. Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 205 calories, 4 g fat
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