Healthy eating comes under countless names. Atkins. Gluten-free. Paleo. Keto. Vegetarian. Vegan. Pescatarian. Mediterranean. Plant Paradox. All of these are ways of eating that claim to be healthy. And they all claim scientific research that backs up why their diets work or have health benefits, but often this research supports opposing views to another way of eating. For example, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute that is part of the National Institutes of Health promotes lean meats, poultry and fish, but the Keto and Atkins ways of eating say don’t worry about the fats in meats as your body will use the fats it can and expel the rest.
So with all of the conflicting information out there what does healthy eating really mean? For starters, the one thing all ways of eating can agree on is that a healthy diet is plant-based and fresh-food based (meaning not many or any processed foods). Trans and saturated fats as well as high levels of sodium and sugars are found in processed foods—meaning things that come in cans, packages and are already prepared. These are things that everyone agrees are not good for anyone’s body, regardless of that person’s age, especially if a person eats them in large quantities or on a regular basis. The second thing all of the aforementioned ways of eating agree on is that most fast food is as unhealthy as the processed foods, since much of it is processed foods. (Remember the 2004 documentary Super Size Me and its 2017 sequel Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken that showed weight gain and physical and psychological health problems that stemmed from eating a month’s worth of fast foods?)
But as far as how much protein and the types of protein your body or your children’s bodies need and whether a specific food is beneficial and healthy for you personally, is up for debate and may only be determined by how the said-food makes you feel (unless you or your child have an actual allergic reaction or a food allergy was found during allergy testing.)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion offers food guidelines; they replaced its historic Food Pyramid in 2011 with something called MyPlate, which shows what and how much of each food group to eat and what that looks like on a plate. It is explained in terms of a person’s age, sex, height, weight and physical activity level. The one thing in common with all of the variables is that MyPlate recommends a diet rich in plants; fruits and veggies and whole grains make up 75-percent of the healthy diet.
HEALTHY EATING FOR KIDS
If you have kids, the MyPlate website for kids has games, songs, videos and activities to get children familiar with fruits, grains, vegetables, proteins and dairy, and it challenges kids to become MyPlate Champions by making sure half of every plate of food they eat is made up of fresh fruits and vegetables, and to only eat or drink things containing sugars “once in a while and in small amounts,” and to replace sugary drinks with water or dairy (if the child is not allergic to it).
HEALTHY EATING FOR TEENS
The MyPlate for Teens has information on the Body Mass Index, on school breakfast and lunches, discusses the food and hunger tips and the difference needed in the diets of teen males and females. For example, the male tips offers a super tracker to make sure guys are getting enough nutrients as they grow and there’s also advice on how to stave off the “always hungry” feeling many teen boys have. The tips for girls include how to get enough iron in your diet and how to build strong bones.
MyPlate also has a website for college students, for families, for professionals and for adults, and the websites are available in 21 languages. We love how accessible and information-rich the site is and how it champions healthy eating.
The next time you or your children need something to eat, remember that the healthy eating habit everyone can agree on is to eat more plants, so stalk up on your favorite veggies, fruits and legumes, and snack until your healthy heart is content.