Welcome to the second part of the new series dedicated to understanding some of the current diet programs and helping each one of us make realistic and healthy eating habits. Last week I introduced the series and explained what it is that every single diet fad and formula can agree upon: the Standard American Diet is never a good choice.
Today I want to cover two very popular and conventional approaches to healthy eating. Almost everyone is familiar with the USDA’s work to education the public, often through the public schools, on healthy eating habits. When it comes to weight loss in a supportive group setting or with a more formal approach to tracking the food that is eaten, Weight Watchers is one of the most well-known programs. Let’s take a look at the two!
USDA’s Choose MyPlate
Back when I was in school, the food pyramid was the source of our instruction in proper nutrition. The pyramid morphed into a modified version called MyPyramid, which was supposed to be more reflective of up-to-date research in the field of nutrition. The modified version was meant to encourage physical activity and more accurate serving sizes. Now in the form of MyPlate, the federal government continues its efforts to encourage the public to make healthy choices. If you are so inclined, you can visit this site for a full history of the USDA’s involvement in nutrition education.
The main agenda: The focus of this initiative is to use the familiar place setting to get Americans to consume foods from five major food groups: grains, protein, dairy, fruits, and vegetables, with small amounts of liquid oil in the diet. Some of the main suggestions include making half the grain products you eat whole grain items, filling half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, eating a variety of veggies based on color, eliminated saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, varying protein sources, and keeping protein and dairy foods low or non-fat. Physical activity and avoiding “empty calories” from saturated fats and added sugars is also encouraged.
What I like: Following the USDA’s guidelines takes anyone quite a few steps away from the overly processed diet that is far too common on modern kitchen tables. An emphasis on a variety of vegetables and protein sources along with warnings against excess sugar found in foods like candy and soda is a great start for anyone wanting to begin healthy eating habits.
Where I differ: I am a firm believer that natural saturated fats are not empty calories and need not be restricted in the diet. This includes butter, coconut oil, and animal fats both used for cooking and in meat, and these things are discouraged in the USDA’s plan. Soy is also suggested as a good protein and dairy option, while I believe that soy, unless fermented and used as a condiment, is harmful to our health. I also have to wonder why the government needs to tell me what I should eat when it is $16 trillion+ in debt, but I suppose that’s a different topic all together.
Weight Watchers began in the early 1960s when the founder, Jean Nidetch, began hosting a weekly gathering in her home to discuss weight loss. Today, it is a well-known organization that offers members two options for enrollment: online participation and weekly support meetings. No foods are off-limits, special treats are allowed, and the diet claims to keep members full by allowing unlimited of fiber-rich fruits and veggies. The PointsPlus system assigns every food a certain point value, and members aim to stay within their allotted daily points range. Points are calculated based on a food’s protein, fat, carbohydrate, and calorie content. I found this overview of the Weight Watchers diet from US News and World Report very informative, so start there if you are looking for more details.
What I like: I think the support aspect of Weight Watchers is a wonderful thing, and many people have had great weight-loss success through the program. Allowing members the freedom to choose any food they like makes the program seem less restrictive, as well. Like the USDA’s recommendations, the emphasis on unprocessed fruits and vegetables will help anyone get or stay healthy.
Where I differ: Again, the restrictions on saturated fats while encouraging low and non-fat dairy and protein are areas where I would disagree. The points system seems a bit complicated and excessive to me, but some people may find the hard numbers easier to navigate than reading nutrition labels and ingredients lists. The membership fees involved can be prohibitive as well, though members may find the cost a motivator to be consistent. And while allowing all foods to be potential choices, members may be able to eat up on foods rather devoid of nutrients (like some of the desserts recipes I’ve seen) and full of artificial flavors and sweeteners while still staying within their points range.
Do you have any experience with either of these two options for healthy eating? Please tell me about it!
Join me next week as we take a peek at vegetarian, vegan, and raw diets!
DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional. These posts are not to be considered medical advice, but my personal thoughts regarding nutrition. See your doctor for specific medical questions and advice.