Choose my (better) plate. Our suggestion for improving the USDA nutrition guidelines

The USDA recently unveiled a new plate diagram to replace the Food Pyramid as a tool to help people make food choices. Here at Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage® we have our own plate diagram (“How to Build a Healthy Meal Wheel”) to guide people to make healthy food choices. Though they may look similar, the USDA’s plate and Natural Grocers’ plate have a few important differences.


Natural Grocers Meal Wheel compated to 2011 USDA nutrition icon

Click on image to enlarge


In our diagram we emphasize vegetables – a full half of the plate is vegetables. Vegetables are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that are necessary for energy production and overall wellness. Many of these nutrients have antioxidant capacity, which means they protect our bodies from internal and external toxins. Additionally, vegetables are a great source of fiber which can help normalize elimination and help us to feel full for longer. Fiber also slows the absorption of sugar into the blood stream, helping to maintain normal blood sugar levels.


Our diagram also emphasizes healthy fats, including some saturated fats. Healthy fat is used to cook with, garnish food, and is a component of quality protein from animal sources. Healthy fats are important for human health as a source of energy, a building block of cell membranes and hormones, and a carrier of fat soluble vitamins. Additionally, fats help us feel full for longer and slow the absorption of sugar into the blood stream, helping to maintain normal blood sugar levels. Saturated fat in the dietraises HDL (“healthy”) cholesterol. It is an important structural component of the brain and every cell membrane in the body. The saturated fats stearic acid and palmitic acid are the preferred fuel for the heart, which is why the fat around the heart muscle is highly saturated.Additionally, saturated fats found in butter and coconut oil support the immune system.


We also emphasize quality proteins, including grass-fed beef and bison, chicken, fish, pork, eggs, and dairy products such as yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheese.In general, the palm of your hand represents an ideal amount of protein for each meal. If you are eating a smaller meal, or simply having a snack, then consider making about one quarter of what you eat a protein-based food.


In our diagram we deemphasize grains. Grains, even whole grains, are a source of rapidly absorbable sugar that can have a dramatic effect on blood sugar levels. Additionally grains contain proteins called lectins that act like hormones and elicit unfavorable responses, including inflammation; immune system activation and/or disruption; mood and behavior disruption due to the activation of opiate receptors; hypertension; contributing to insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar levels; disrupting sex hormones; gut inflammation, dysfunction, and damage; increased allergies; and reducing micronutrient absorption. Grains also contain anti-nutrients including phytates and protease inhibitors which can cause reduced nutrient absorption of minerals and fat soluble vitamins (A, E, D, & K); gut inflammation, dysfunction, and damage; immune system activation; and general inflammation. Because of the many problems with grains, consumption intake should be limited or avoided all together.


Finally, we emphasize food quality, encouraging organic produce and dairy and naturally-raised meats. High quality foods provide the nutrients we need and have the least toxic load for our bodies to clean up.


You are unique and your dietary needs can, and most likely, will change – even day-to-day. No two people need the same exact amount of food, so we encourage you to pay attention to how you feel after a meal and adjust the portions of food groups accordingly.