Rate Your Plate
By Brie Turner-McGrievy, M.S., R.D.
We all want to look good, feel great, and live a long, healthy life. It all begins, of course, with good nutrition. Rate your plate to see whether you're on the road to longevity or are hitting far too many speed bumps along the way. Have no fear—this is one quiz you can ace in no time at all.
1. How many times per week do you eat meat, fish, or poultry?
B. 1 to 2
C. 3 to 5
D. 6 or more
2. On average, how many dairy products (cheese, milk, yogurt, etc.) do you eat each day?
D. 3 or more
3. If a restaurant menu featured the following entrées, you would likely choose:
A. Pasta primavera, prepared without oil or cheese
B. Pasta with pesto sauce, made with extra-virgin olive oil
C. A chicken breast (skin removed) with au gratin potatoes
D. A steak or hamburger and fries
4. When eating a baked potato, you most often top it with:
A. Salsa or low-fat veggie chili
B. Light margarine
C. Light sour cream
5. When making a meal at home, which of the following grains would be typically found on your plate?
A. Brown rice, pasta, or any whole grain
B. Bread dipped in olive oil
C. Macaroni and cheese
D. What's a grain?
6. A typical dessert for you is:
A. Fresh fruit
B. Dairy and egg-free brownies
7. When eating out at an Asian restaurant, your favorite dish is:
A. Steamed vegetables with garlic or basil over brown rice
B. Deep-fried tofu with peanut sauce
C. Shrimp with vegetables and steamed rice
D. With all those vegetable dishes, I'd rather go get a hamburger
8. A typical breakfast for you would include:
A. Oatmeal or a whole grain cereal with soymilk
B. Bagel with nondairy cream cheese
C. Bran cereal with skim milk
D. Eggs and sausage
9. What do you top your salad with?
A. A fat-free, vegan dressing, lemon juice, vinegar, or nothing at all
B. Oil and vinegar, until it glistens!
C. Low-fat ranch dressing
D. Egg, tuna, and cheese topped with blue cheese dressing
10. Because you're concerned about your health, you:
A. Gave up all animal products and became vegan
B. Would like to make more changes, but are a little confused by conflicting messages
C. Switched from whole milk to skim milk
D. Switched from red meat to white meat
Congratulations! Your daily food choices will keep you slim and help protect you from many chronic diseases. Your intake of vegetables, grains, fruits, and legumes is commendable.
While you may be eating a plant-based diet, you'll want to be diligent when reading food labels and ordering restaurant meals. Steer clear of added oils, fats, heavy sauces, and other highly processed foods, and you'll take that final step toward optimal nutrition.
There's room for improvement here. While you may be cutting back on higher-fat animal products, remember that every bite of chicken, fish, or dairy products adds unnecessary cholesterol and other troublesome ingredients. Take a look at Meal Make-Over tips below.
You may be adding a few healthy plant foods during the week, but they are probably overshadowed by nutrient-poor animal products in most of your meals. Let those plant foods do their job by making them the centerpiece of every dish. See how with our Meal Make-Over below.
Well, the good news is that you have nowhere to go but up. Your downfall is that you are eating too many low-fiber, high-fat animal products and not enough whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. This can lead to serious trouble down the road. But not to worry, help is on the way.
MEAL MAKE-OVERS 101
We all eat different foods, but most of us have the same
pitfalls. We eat too many of the foods that do us harm and not enough of the foods that do us good. So what are the real keys to good health? Let's find out.
Is meat still a treat? There's a reason so many people are staying away from meat. Every meaty meal adds a hefty dose of cholesterol, saturated fat, and heterocyclic amines (cancer-causing compounds that form when meat is cooked). Avoid it completely and you'll lower your risk for cancer and heart disease—America's top killers. All the iron and protein you need is found in whole grains and beans.
Aren't fish and poultry good for me? Both fish and poultry contain significant amounts of fat and cholesterol, even when the skin and visible fat is removed. What's more, they contain zero fiber and antioxidants, disease-fighting compounds found exclusively in plant foods. To improve your diet, get your low-fat protein and essential fatty acids from plant foods like soybeans, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
What's the deal with dairy? Dairy products, whether they're fat-free, full-fat, or somewhere in between, are something your body can do without. The Harvard Nurses' Health Study (of 78,000 women followed for more than a decade) found that dairy products did not protect against fracture risk. Dairy products have been linked to prostate and breast cancer, as well as Type 1 diabetes. You'll find the calcium you need in leafy greens, beans, and calcium-fortified orange juice, soymilk, or rice milk.
Dietary fat. Why so low? The more fat you have in your diet, the higher your risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer. A low-fat, vegan diet is the most powerful and effective way to lower your risk of these serious diseases.
Why a vegan diet? If you're not convinced yet, consider this: Vegetarians are 10 percent leaner than omnivores, have half the risk of diabetes, and have a 40 percent lower risk of cancer overall. Vegetarian diets also lower blood cholesterol levels by nearly 25 percent. And vegans are at no greater risk for nutritional deficiencies, such as protein or iron, than non-vegetarians. In fact, a meat-and-dairy diet tends to run low on fiber and important vitamins. Just make sure you're getting vitamin B12 in your multivitamin, fortified soymilk, or breakfast cereal. As we age, our ability to absorb B12 decreases so it's important for everyone, no matter what their diet, to include a B12 supplement.