In the last weeks of Health Ed, I have revisited a subject that is near and dear to my heart: nutrition. As many of my friends (and all of my family) can attest to, I lost fifty pounds after the age of fifty by getting honest with myself.
Part of the recommended curriculum in the course I’m taking is an awesome website, called Choose My Plate: www.choosemyplate.gov
I perused this site the other day and found it both fun and informative. Here are some things I enjoyed the most about it.
The “.gov” address is purposeful to this administration, even though the one before was already cooking it up. First Lady Michelle Obama released a plan to influence consumers to make healthier food choices, near the beginning of her husband’s first term in office. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack joined her and together they released the federal government’s first new food icon: My Plate.
This was a gutsy move, as most Americans prefer not to be lectured about what they should or should not be eating. The previous White House also championed fitness and healthy eating, but George W. Bush’s administration wasn't as quick on the draw to make it policy. Even so, we can say that both Republicans and Democrats agree that Americans need to change the way they live and eat.
2. Choose My Plate outlines a good way to view food.
The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP), which maintains the website, is on a mission to present a “Food Guidance System” for the American people.
Choose My Plate illustrates the five food groups that are the building blocks for a healthy diet using a familiar image – a place setting for a meal. “Before you eat,” the site warns, “think about what goes on your plate or in your cup or bowl.”
3. Guidance, not control, is the goal.
As Americans are experiencing epidemic rates of overweight and obesity, they are concurrently spending more time online. With guidance resources and tools, people can choose to empower themselves by making healthier food choices for themselves, their families, and their children. With all of our high-tech knowledge, user-friendly nutritional information remains rare in cyberspace.
“What is a food plan?” one of my friends asked me last week. “How do I know that this person’s diet is any better than that person’s diet?” She was honestly confused about all the conflicting information floating around. I can relate; getting healthy meant learning all over again what was a reasonable serving size.
What used to be common knowledge among us is no longer taught in schools, no longer pitched by food companies, and no longer outlined in our (non-existent) home-economics courses. Instead, we are a nation on our own, each person doing what is right in our own eyes. We are also getting fatter and this is why ChooseMyPlate makes sense.
Guidance is given – and it’s user friendly.
4. There's lots of tools to help us succeed.
There are online resources and tools to help you learn about and manage your weight. For the “old me” a BMI calculator was the enemy and I hated seeing it. Once I got real with myself, I accepted that the tool simply identifies if you are at a healthy weight.
There is also the Super Tracker, a tool that helps you track what you currently eat and drink. If you want, the same tool can give you a personalized plan for what you should eat and drink. This guidance might lead you to make better choices.
5. Quiz me!
How big is a bagel? How big did it used to be in 1980? Why have our portion sizes changed? Once you eat that bagel, how long will you have to rake leaves to burn it off?
To see if you know how today's portions compare to the portions available 20 years ago, you can quiz yourself with a game they call “Portion Distortion” ( I have to admit right now that I failed- but I learned a lot!)
These quizzes are cool because they balance about the amount of physical activity required to burn off the extra calories provided by these larger portions.
6. Focus on fruits and veggies?
A section called “The Ten Tips Nutrition Education Series” provides professionals with high quality, easy-to-follow tips in a convenient, printable format, perfect for posting on a refrigerator.
I wish this site was in existence when I was a teacher- I would have used it in my classroom! There are poster-like .pdf files that encourage “varying your vegetables” and “focusing on fruit” – in English and Spanish.
7. Are good food choices enough?
While Choose My Plate does provide a lot of guidelines about proper food choices and portion sizes, it is quick to recommend moving it all along with exercise.
Available online there are The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. While a government publication, it is far from clinical. It challenges your thinking as well as describing the types and amounts of physical activity that offer the greatest health benefits. It also gives helpful links to information about physical activity and health, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) physical activity page.
Ever think your tax dollars are wasted? I was happily surprised at the efficiency and friendliness of this site. It is a resource that I have bookmarked and will plan on using. Even after I finish summer school.