Last week the USDA announced its newest version of how Americans should eat. For the first time in more than 20 years, the USDA apparently stopped acting as the marketing arm of agribusiness by using a food pyramid (presented in 1992) and worse yet some abstract concept of an “eat-more, exercise-more” idea (presented in 2005). Now the USDA has turned to a plate format, which I have used for years. For comparison, you can see that the Zone diet recommendations are still a lot easier to understand than even the new and improved USDA recommendations as shown above.
The USDA proposes that half your plate (I’ll assume at every meal that you want to control the glycemic load of the meal) should be composed of vegetables and fruits. This is much closer to my Zone recommendation of filling 2/3 of the plate at each meal with vegetables and fruits. Both plates give a volume size to protein (and I’ll assume it is a low-fat protein source). The Zone plate appears to have a higher amount of low-fat protein consisting of 1/3 the plate instead of a quarter as found in the USDA plate. Of course if you add in the strange circle outside the plate that represents milk or cheese (both protein sources) back onto the plate, then you would probably get to about 1/3 the plate volume as low-fat protein.
Finally, what about whole grains on the USDA plate? From a glycemic-load viewpoint, whole grains have nearly the same impact on insulin response as refined grains, so you really don’t gain anything hormonally from having them in your diet. However, if you are at your ideal percentage of body fat, have no chronic disease, perform at peak levels, and are always happy and even-keeled emotionally, only then should you think about adding some whole grains to your diet. (Keep in mind that real whole grains are usually only found in storage bins or in the frozen product section of the supermarket, not in the processed food aisles.) But if you begin to gain weight, develop indications of a chronic disease, or don’t perform physically, mentally, and emotionally on a consistent basis, then take the whole grains out of your diet and go back to my classic Zone plate.
The one thing not mentioned in the USDA guidelines is the role of fat. On the Zone plate, I always say add a dash (that’s a small amount), but that dash of fat should be very low in omega-6 and saturated fats as both can accelerate cellular inflammation. I guess the USDA hasn’t had time to grapple with that more complex dietary concept. Perhaps they will another five years from now. But you don’t have to wait for their next guideline revision. Just follow the dietary guidelines on the Zone plate the best you can at every meal and snack. If you do, then you have done everything possible to maintain your wellness (as measured by your ability to manage cellular inflammation) for as long as possible. I guarantee you that will be the only real health-care reform program that you can count on in the future.