Back to four food groups (sort of)

I just finished a relatively healthy lunch – at least according to what I learned growing up about the four food groups. I had an apple (fruits and vegetables), low-fat cherry yogurt (dairy), and a turkey wrap (grain and meat, plus just a little vegetable, in the form of lettuce). But I don’t know just how well it would measure up against the new “dinner plate” recommendations.

I liked the original food pyramid introduced in 1992. It was harder to remember than the four food groups, and I was never sure quite what was in the middle two layers, but the top and bottom were easy to remember. Lots of grains, which I liked – bread, bagels, cereal, rice, granola bars. I couldn’t remember how many servings I was supposed to have (6 – 11), but I’m sure I got enough every day.

The top section was easy to remember too – all those fattening foods I loved that I wasn’t supposed to eat much of. Ice cream, candy, chips, toppings and dips that made other foods taste better. I would have liked it if vegetables and dairy had traded places so I could more of the latter and less of the former (actually I’d have liked it even better if vegetables traded places with the fats/oils/sweets). But if I made an effort, I could eat right according to that pyramid.

I didn’t notice that the pyramid had been modified in 2005, until my younger son started learning about it in school. We had to go over it in Cub Scouts at least once for one of his achievements, but I could never remember what all those vertical wedges represented (in the simpler version often used, there were no labels or pictures of food at the bottom).

I’m curious what sort of research the USDA did that made them think anyone would understand it. But by then I’d been struggling with the issue of healthy eating for most of my life, and I knew what I was supposed to eat (and not eat), regardless of what the educational graphics looked like.

It’s nice to see that we’re back to thinking in terms of food groups much like those I grew up with. The only real difference, as far as I’m concerned, is that fruits and vegetables have been split into two groups. I always knew that the group called meat and fish really meant protein, and that eggs and beans belonged there too.

I don’t mind that the dairy group is relegated to a small circle on the side. When I was growing up, I ate lots of cheese and yogurt and drank lots of milk. But as an adult, I have to push myself to drink at least one glass of milk a day and eat yogurt regularly. What is more difficult is trying to eat almost twice as much of fruits and vegetables combined, as of grains. (I really did like how the 1992 pyramid made the grains portion bigger than fruits and vegetables put together.)

Of course, most meals I prepare can’t easily be sorted into the dinner-plate quadrants. Tonight I’m cooking frozen cheese ravioli, which is grains plus dairy. Or does ricotta cheese count as protein? With it I mix some spaghetti sauce (vegetable?) and some “light” alfredo sauce (dairy? protein?), plus a bit of mozzarella cheese. For vegetable we have salad made from romaine lettuce, and topped with cottage cheese (for my older son), shredded cojack (all of us), or olive oil and vinegar (me).

And the occasional midnight bowl of cranberry almond crunch cereal with milk? Who cares – I’ll just enjoy eating it.

2 Responses to Back to four food groups (sort of)

  1. renaissanceguy says:

    One problem with MyPlate is that it doesn’t distinguish between actually healthy food products and more natural foods. I suppose that store-bought white bread would qualify as “grains” as well as freshly baked whole wheat bread. A lot of people would consider ice cream dairy just as they would unsweetened yogurt. Broccoli covered in cheese sauce qualifies as vegetables, but so would a raw spinach salad with a light dressing.

    You could get really fat and unhealthy by following the plate without regard to the food additives and processes used to make the food.

    • Pauline says:

      RenaissanceGuy,
      That’s one problem I have with it too. Though the same would apply to any of the other ways of grouping foods I’ve seen, except for those that are too complicated to remember. (I vaguely remember seeing one chart that subdivided each group into high-fat and low-fat foods, but I could never remember how many servings of high-fat was allowed versus low-fat.)

      I generally figure that anything sweet enough or rich enough to tempt me to go back for seconds is probably something I should only eat one serving of, and not very often at that. Unfortunately I’ve never developed a taste for broccoli without cheese sause, or unsweetened yogurt. I do like whole wheat bread, though – the only white bread I really like is French bread (or Spanish, but I don’t know where to get it outside of Spain).

      I finally discovered that making my own hummus is a way I can enjoy raw vegetables (though I’m still not exactly excited about broccoli or cauliflower), and it seems pretty healthy to me (garbanzo beans, olive oil, tahini – ground sesame seeds, and lemon juice). But I still have to push myself to make the hummus and buy the vegetables.

      Speaking of which, I need to make some hummus tonight…

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