Courtesy of the USDA

The MyPlate government recommendations for a healthy diet.

November 28, 2022

Eatonomics: Government Recommended Food Portions

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We’ve all heard of unwanted or unexpected weight gain upon entering college. The freshman 15, sophomore 30 and so on may linger on the minds of many students living away from home, possibly for the first time, and armed with unlimited meal swipes and a persistent desire for all combinations of delicious mouth-watering sweet and savory foods that just “hit the spot right.” Especially on appetite’s triggered by walking around all day, countless study sessions and nonstop social events in an explorative period of life. 

Thanks to the meal plan system along with our valuable dining staff, breathtaking amounts of food are conveniently available hot and ready for students at any operating hour without the need to cook, or even wash dishes. After all, Niche pinpoints Cornell Dining at a spectacular #15 in America based on the consistent diversity and quality of our food. But how can hungry Cornellians be more conscious of the quantity and type of food that they eat on a daily basis at the plethora of Cornell’s cafes and dining halls? Here, we will explore the government recommendations for structuring your plate along with the thoughts of a registered dietician and a nutrition major. 

The USDA Food Guidance System myplate.gov offers comprehensive and individualized diet  suggestions based on age, sex, height, weight and activity level. Myplate.gov works to integrate the five food groups of vegetables, fruits, grains, protein and dairy into everyday diets. “Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables,” “Make half of your grains whole grains” and “Vary your protein routine” are just a few of the recommendations to keep in mind when loading up your plate. Notably, myplate.gov encourages a movement towards healthier and balanced eating that is not about haves and have nots, but rather about the overall, general composition of what is eaten. The website also dives into greater detail regarding the health benefits of each food group, serving sizes, and general nutrition facts. 

Christine Goulet is a registered dietician nutritionist with the WIC Program — a USDA funded supplemental nutrition program for low-income women and children below the age of five who has worked very closely with the myplate.gov model since its commencement in an effort to target public health.

“They have great resources with just generally building a healthy plate,” Goulet explains about MyPlate. As a nutrition professional, Goulet reflects,  “In general I would say it’s really good — I refer people to it often.”  However, with such a general model tailored towards basic nutrition, Goulet also sees some gaps in these government recommendations. 

“If there’s maybe two things that are missing from MyPlate it would be speaking to the need for [physical] activity and then perhaps encouraging more water because water is calorie-free. It also doesn’t talk about healthy fats — that would probably be something else to add down the line” Goulet suggests.

 “It’s very confusing for people and to some degree it’s hard to explain,” elaborates Goulet on the reasoning behind why some of these specifics may be unaddressed in the MyPlate model. This is why Goulet and the program she works with aim to prioritize personalized educational classes in conjunction with the model. She wants to provide more specific professional nutrition recommendations that go beyond keeping “to simple terms” when only utilizing MyPlate.  

As our conversation came to a close, I was curious about the future of public health nutrition. 

“Now we’re realizing that food is medicine,” Goulet asserts. “We’re really having more advocacy pushing for food prescriptions … [for example] if  we know you’re prone to this disease let’s give a prescription for these foods because this is what’s going to help [you] live longer and reduce medicines” says Goulet. “We’re looking for down the road more tailored nutrition therapy as preventative medicine as to slow the progression of diseases.”

Jay Gevariya ’25, a nutrition major in the College of Human Ecology, is also familiar with myplate.gov and its framework, and shares similar thoughts to Goulet. Based on what he has discussed in his courses about healthier eating habits, Gevariya feels “it is not the most effective way,” and illustrates why using a food group that is generally believed to be healthy and universally disliked by children: vegetables. 

In regard to options of what whole vegetables are defined as and how they are recommended by myplate.gov, Gevariya believes that “They don’t really distinguish between all the vegetables because a lot of carbs can spike your blood sugar.” Gevariya then goes on to elaborate this discrepancy by pointing out, “If you think about it, Americans can just fulfill the vegetable requirement by eating French fries … because there is no real distinction there … and them making it very vague makes it up to interpretation and people can obviously find loopholes.” 

While MyPlate.gov offers a general overview and somewhat loose guidelines towards healthier eating, it is clearly not the most perfect model. However, to those unfamiliar with how to begin a consistently healthier diet and people looking to fill any gaps in their nutrition knowledge, these government recommendations do the job. 

Knowing yourself and your body is crucial for what you eat, and MyPlate’s individualized MyPlate Plan of recommendations based on age, sex, height, weight and activity level offers valuable information to consider for everyday meals. So whether you are a seasoned nutrition expert, someone thinking of improving your food choices at Cornell, or are interested in some personalized data, checking out myplate.gov may not be a bad idea for learning something new about yourself. Happy Dining!

Kyle Roth is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at [email protected]