What's on Your Plate? Living Healthy with Food

September 12, 2017

by Dr. David Mosley, an internal medicine physician with Mercy Clinic in Hazelwood, Missouri.

Food plays a big role in health. It’s important to eat different kinds of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains.

Make food tasty and healthy by using seasonings without sodium, such as paprika, cumin, chili powder, basil, oregano, or a bottled mix that does not have salt in the ingredient list. If the name includes “salt,” such as “seasoning salt” or “garlic salt,” then it will have sodium. Added sodium is harmful to your health, especially if you have high blood pressure or a heart condition.  

Not only focusing on what you eat, but how much of it helps keep your body healthy. One way to help control portions is to use something called the Plate Method.

Half the plate should be full of non-starchy vegetables like greens, broccoli, carrots and tomatoes. Roasting vegetables in the oven brings out the flavor.

The other half is divided in half again. You can fill one section with protein like chicken, turkey, lean beef, fish, eggs, or low-fat cheese. 

The last section you can fill with a starch, like potatoes, corn, peas, pasta, rice, beans, or bread. Avoid high carb foods like sweets and chips. Instead, try fruit with non-dairy whipped topping or crunchy vegetables.  

If you would like, add small servings of dairy or fruit.

For your drink, choose water, which you can flavor with lemon or lime, or unsweetened tea. Patients are often surprised how much sugar is in soda, sweet tea, juice and energy drinks.

Click here to help you decide how to fill your plate.

A quick and easy reference for proper portion size is your hand. A cupped hand is a half cup, about the serving size of starchy foods. Your thumb is one to two tablespoons, the serving size of peanut butter or cheese. Your thumbnail is a teaspoon, the serving size for butter.

Also, it’s important to know what to look for on a nutrition label. First, look at the serving size and how many servings are in the package. The amounts on the labels are how much is in each serving. Many times there is more than one serving in a package. Try to eat food with less fat and sodium (salt) and watch the carbohydrates if you have diabetes (one serving of carbs is 15 grams). The “% Daily Value” is based on a 2,000-calorie diet, which is more than most people should have – another reason to focus on serving size.

Two examples of the Plate Method. The portions on the right are ideal, because there are fewer starches, no butter and a healthier protein. The left, while not the best balance, is still a healthier plate than most!

Two examples of the Plate Method. The portions on the right are ideal, because there are fewer starches, no butter and a healthier protein. The left, while not the best balance, is still a healthier plate than most!

Don’t be fooled by packages that say “natural” and other words that sound healthy. Read the ingredient list to know for sure. Look for “whole” in the list, like whole wheat instead of “enriched.” Usually “processed” foods have ingredients you don’t recognize such as hydrogenated oil or fructose corn syrup. It’s best to avoid these foods.

Read the nutrition information at restaurants. Often meals out have as many calories as you should eat in a whole day – 10 or more teaspoons of fat, 35 or more teaspoons of sugar and a half teaspoon of salt. Imagine your plate piled with all that shortening, sugar and salt.

I hear from patients who think eating healthy is too expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Try frozen or canned fruits in water or juice (rather than syrup) and vegetables with no salt added or low in sodium. Beans are cheap, and you can rinse them to lower the amount of sodium. The same can be done for canned veggies. Canned tuna and chicken as well as eggs provide low-cost protein.

For more information, see your registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator.

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David Eugene Mosley, MD, Mercy
Internal Medicine
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