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ChooseMyPlate: An Expert Weighs in on a New Plan, Portion Control

A timely replacement for the food pyramid

Laura KolodjeskiLaura Kolodjeski

Dr Lisa YoungDr. Lisa Young

While recently shopping in the kitchen & dining section of a store, I stopped to look at the dish sets. I held a few in my hand and cringed while considering just how big the plates were and how much food it could take to fill them up.

While focused on helping Americans become healthier, First Lady Michelle Obama is also paying attention to portion sizes. The Obamas are highlighting two key efforts: Let’s Move, which we featured in August, and ChooseMyPlate. ChooseMyPlate, intended to replace the food pyramid, is about providing Americans with an easier to understand guide to what their plate should look like at a meal.

For this article, I wanted to go beyond what is available on the ChooseMyPlate website and in the literature circulated to better understand how the effort affects all Americans but especially those living with diabetes. So, Dr. Lisa Young, one of the country’s foremost experts on portion control, answered some questions for us.

Dr. Young’s resume is impressive! You may remember her from the documentary “Super Size Me,” but she has also authored several books, writes the PortionTeller.com blog and has a very active Twitter account. She has made it her mission to discuss portion sizes and how much that can play into the number of calories, carbohydrates and sodium going into our diet.

Dr. Young said the key part of ChooseMyPlate is that it shows half of the plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables.

“Truthfully, the one big improvement is that half the plate should be fruits and vegetables – really accentuating the component of those food groups,” she said. “Another improvement is that the plate might be easier to relate to than the pyramid. Had they done a pyramid with fruits and vegetables at the base, that would have been fine, too.”

Dr. Young said that she uses her own pyramid when working with patients and speaking on nutrition, but said that in looking at the new ChooseMyPlate, it’s important to think about what foods fill up those sections of the plate, especially for people with diabetes.

“Protein is important for diabetics to have at each meal, but I would like to see a little more on grains. You want to accentuate diabetics having whole grains, grains of fiber, as opposed to processed grains. That is an important food group for diabetics – it’s not just having the grains, it’s having the healthy grains,” she said.

ChooseMyPlate places emphasis on the actual plate of food. But Dr. Young talks plenty about that thing that initially caught my attention while shopping – the actual size of that plate. She says that people can go a long way in eating less just by paying attention to the size of the plate on which they put their food.

“Plates have gotten bigger. Think about it, if you put a 3-ounce serving of chicken or meat on a big plate, it looks smaller,” Dr. Young said. “Put it on a smaller plate, it looks huge. So if you put salad on a dinner plate, you have more salad. People will fill up on that. Put your main dish on a smaller plate and you end up taking less. There’s actually been research with diabetics and pre-portioned plates that showed they can help them lose weight.”

A lot of what Dr. Young says about portion control is common sense, but it’s very useful information. For example, she mentioned that those living with type 2 diabetes may sometimes have a tough time with portion control.

“Many type 2 diabetics may be overweight because they might have a problem with portion control. We don’t know that for sure, but helping them focus on their weight might really help them better manage their diabetes,” she said.

In the end, seeing Dr. Young in a high-profile movie like “Super Size Me” or reading articles about how big portions have gotten can only get Americans so far.

“Awareness has definitely grown. But being aware and doing something about it can be difficult, especially when eating out. We live in an environment when you buy a piece of pizza, you’re not going to leave a third of it. You’re not going to share it with someone. The best way to change these things is returning to smaller portions.”

I’d like to thank Dr. Young for taking time out of her busy schedule to share her thoughts on this topic. Portion control is a big issue for the diabetes and non-diabetes communities alike and I hope this article starts a good conversation not just about what we eat, but how much we eat. What do you think about the ChooseMyPlate effort? Will you pay attention to it or use specific aspects of it? Let us know!

All the best,

Laura K.

Disclosure: Dr. Young received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.

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  1. tmana
    October 11th, 2011, 7:17 AM

    When I saw “@MyPlate” leading to this, tweeted by Fit4D, I thought it might have been a review of the “MyPlate D” tool from The Daily Plate/Livestrong http://www.livestrong.com/myplate/ This tool allows the user to plug in foods and serving sizes, as well as glucose readings, and can be useful in tracking glucose levels to dietary consumption

    1. Laura
      October 11th, 2011, 10:18 AM

      This looks like a great tool too… thanks for sharing! You may also want to check out the GoMeals app to help track your dietary intake. It allows you to look up nutritional information for hundreds of restaurants and thousands of everyday grocery and generic food items.

      Thanks again for commenting.
      Best, Laura