Evidence-based healthy eating patterns to try for the rest of this year: Michael Macknin

CLEVELAND – By this time, many people may be frustrated trying to keep their New Year’s resolution to eat healthier. Understanding scientifically proven principles that can easily be self-adapted to most healthy eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean, DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), and Vegetarian Diets, can help you customize your healthy eating pattern to one you will enjoy.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has their “Dietary Recommendations for Americans” on MyPlate.gov. “The Nutrition Source” from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health discusses the similarities and differences between Harvard’s “Healthy Eating Plate” and the “USDA’s MyPlate.” Only the Heathy Eating Plate is “based exclusively on the best available science, and was not subjected to political or commercial pressures from food industry lobbyists.”

MyPlate, probably at least in part due to dairy industry lobbying, still focuses on dairy as the primary beverage and an important source of nutrients, even though: the majority of the world’s adult population is intolerant of dairy; there is no consistent evidence dairy consumption helps to prevent osteoporosis; and increasing dairy consumption has not been associated with a decreased risk of fractures. However, the 2020 MyPlate did state that lactose-free options and soy versions of dairy are also recommended.

The Healthy Eating Plate focuses on water as the beverage of choice, and finds coffee and tea (without added sugar) acceptable as beverages while suggesting limiting milk and juice.

The Scientific Report of the 2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Committee recommends that red meat and processed meats consumption be lowered. However, those recommendations have repeatedly been left off MyPlate, likely related to lobbying by the meat industry.

The Healthy Eating Plate suggests limiting red meat and avoiding bacon, cold cuts and other processed meats. Both MyPlate and the Healthy Eating Plate are now emphasizing that one-fourth of your plate should have healthy protein such as beans, lentils, soybeans and other legumes; whole grains; unsalted nuts; fish, seafood, poultry and lean meat.

Both Plates recommend that one-fourth of your plate should be grains. MyPlate suggests at least half be whole grains and Healthy Eating Plate says to eat whole grains and limit refined grains. Whole grains include brown rice, whole-wheat and sprouted breads, and whole-grain pastas and cereals. Read the label and look for the word “whole.” The ingredients are ordered by their quantity in the product, first meaning the most, and last least. Often products labeled whole grain are not 100% whole grain.

MyPlate and the Healthy Eating Plate both agree that one-half of your plate should contain a variety of more vegetables than fruits. MyPlate counts potatoes, including french fries, as vegetables; the Healthy Eating Plate does not.

The Healthy Eating Plate also recommends staying active.

Both MyPlate and Healthy Eating Plate agree we should limit added sugars, salt, saturated fat and alcohol. The Healthy Eating Plate encourages the use of healthy oils like olive and canola oil and suggests limiting butter. MyPlate does not comment on oils.

SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) goals you adapt to your personal situation are a great place to start. A friend, family member, or health professional to both work with you and serve as a cheerleader is extraordinarily helpful. An initial Smart Goal could be to “Eat one serving of oatmeal at breakfast three times this week.” Be sure to CELEBRATE SUCCESS! Do not dwell on setbacks.


1. Healthy Eating Plate: Half more vegetables than fruit; one-fourth whole grains; one-fourth healthy protein; water as the beverage of choice; use healthy oils.

2. Stay active.

3. Limit processed meat and foods, added sugars, salt, saturated fat, alcohol, red meat, and refined grains.

4. Set smart goals and celebrate success!

Dr. Michael Macknin is a Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University and staff physician at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

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