Eat More Plants! Uncle Sam Dishes Up New Menu Advice

Uncle Sam wants us to eat a more plant-based diet. (Yes, that includes olive oil.) And the feds literally are serving up their new dietary guidelines on a plate.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled its new plate-shaped dietary icon this month. It replaces the food pyramid which guided Americans for nearly two decades. Critics called the pyramid confusing.

The new icon, based on the dietary guidelines the USDA issued in January, recommends that half your plate consist of vegetables and fruits; vegetables account for the larger share. Grains and proteins make up the other half; grains, particularly whole grains, account for the bigger share. Seafood, meanwhile, gets a shout-out as a good protein option.

Dairy — considered a voluntary choice — is off to the side. And olive oil and most other plant-based oils get Uncle Sam’s nod of approval.

Nutritionists and experts generally applaud the new plate approach, saying it’s easier to understand than the food pyramid. The healthy eating campaign comes as more than one-third of children and more than two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese.

“The plate does a better job of reflecting current thinking about healthy diets than previous guides,” nutrition and public policy expert Marion Nestle tells the San Francisco Chronicle.

“What I like best are the messages that come with the plate. My favorite? ‘Enjoy your food, but eat less.’”

While olive oil and other oils aren’t considered a food group, the USDA says “they do provide essential nutrients and are therefore included in USDA recommendations for what to eat.”

The guidelines suggest most of the fats you eat should be polyunsaturated (PUFA) or monounsaturated fats (MUFA). Olive oil, in particular, is high in monounsaturated fats.

“The MUFAs and PUFAs found in fish, nuts, and vegetable oils do not raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels in the blood,” the USDA says. “In addition to the essential fatty acids they contain, oils are the major source of vitamin E in typical American diets.”

The USDA does, however, note that a few plant oils — including coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil — are “high in saturated fats and for nutritional purposes should be considered to be solid fats.” Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature, like butter and shortening.

“Most solid fats are high in saturated fats and/or trans fats and have less monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats,” the USDA says. “Saturated fats and trans fats tend to raise “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels in the blood. This, in turn increases the risk for heart disease.”

The USDA, as a result, advises Americans should “cut back on foods containing saturated fats and trans fats” to reduce the risk of heart disease.

The new dietary guidelines also suggest we should:

  • Get at least half our grains from whole grains, including whole-wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, and brown rice
  • Eat beans, peas, or soy products like tofu “as a main dish or part of a meal often”
  • Go “lean with the protein,” opting for lean cuts of beef, pork chicken and bison
  • Eat seafood at least twice a week, particularly fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, and herring
  • Avoid oversized portions
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks

Bon appétit,

Your friends at California Olive Ranch