To catch everyone up, the food pyramid has undergone some serious construction since 2005. The name on the front of the great Food Pyramid was reformed into ‘MyPyramid,’ while adding a flight of stairs along the left side to encourage daily physical activity.
The food groups were organized vertically on the face of the 2-D pyramid. The width of each food group’s bar represents the suggested amount of calories to get from each (grains, fruits, vegetables, etc.).
In 2011, the USDA came out with MyPlate (with help from Dr. Neal Barnard & company). The plate is divided into fourths between grains, fruit, vegetables and protein (beans, nuts, lean meats). The only other accessory to the plate is a cup to represent low-fat dairy products. These latest innovations bring us to present day America.
So instead of a pyramid to base our choices off of, we have now exchanged for a meal by meal guide that resembles a dinner plate. While before, the pyramid was filled with different foods we could visually distinguish, now all we are left with are even more vague food groupings...and still no way of making sure that we are eating optimally.
Given these statistics, wouldn’t it be more proactive for the USDA to focus less on visual aid models and focus more on education, awareness, and tools to help us make the most wholesome choices, even when in a hurry?
I am proud to announce that the government is working towards this idea. The first paragraph that appears on choosemyplate.gov under the nutrition tab focuses on nutrient density.
Nutrient density is a simple formula of nutrients / calories (amount of vitamins, minerals, etc. per total amount of ‘energy’). Basing your choices off of nutrient density gives you one leg up on your dietary goals.
It’s like having all the answers to the test, but in order to pass you just have to eat them!
The USDA lists vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans, peas and unsalted nuts and seeds as nutrient dense.
Say it with me: N-u-t-r-i-e-n-t D-e-n-s-i-t-y
Dr. Joel Fuhrman developed the ANDI score or Aggregate Nutrient Density Index, which ranks common foods on a scale of 1 to 1000, which is the core of the MyPlate.
The higher the score, the more nutrients you can get per calorie. As listed above, vegetables, especially dark green leafed ones (kale, collard / mustard greens, and watercress), receive a perfect score of 1,000. Along down the list you would pass all sorts of other veggies, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds.
But to find any meat or dairy products you would have to loosen your definition of what you consider nutrient dense. If the majority of vegetables are scoring in the hundreds (up to 1000) and the most nutrient dense meat ranks in with a whopping score of 39 (shrimp/salmon), if you are stubbornly trying to lose weight, you may want to limit yourself to only a few servings of animal products a week.
This is not to say that lean meat and dairy products do not contain vital nutrients, but they contain too many calories to be considered densely nutritious. Plus, all are void of fiber and phytochemicals, hurting their potentially moderate score.
Following these guides does not mean that you have to boycott all high calorie or low scoring foods. But saving these low ANDI score foods, for weekends or special occasions for example, allows our palate time to reset before we dump our favorite sugary, fatty, salty foods down the hatch.