Health and Fitness
August 12, 2011
By Lynn Mundell
Kaiser Permanente Embraces New ‘Food Plate’
Health professionals educate members about new ideal diet
These days, good health looks more like a circle than a triangle.
The long-time “food pyramid” has just been replaced by MyPlate as the federal government’s standard for a healthy diet. At Kaiser Permanente, that translates to updates to member classes, talks and health education provided physicians, health educators, dieticians and others.
But first a tutorial in nutritional shape-shifting.
The food pyramid was introduced in 1993, with its largest section dedicated to grains, breads and cereals, followed by a swath for fruits and vegetables, then dairy and meat above, topped by fats, oils and sweets.
This summer, the pyramid was replaced with MyPlate, a circle divided into quadrants, with half the plate reserved for vegetables and to a slightly lesser degree fruits, one-quarter for grains (ideally whole), and one-quarter for protein. Off to the side is a small cup for dairy. Fats and sweets are nowhere to be found.
While the change may seem subtle, according to Celine Hollombe, project manager for nutrition, physical activity and weight management, at Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s Regional Health Education, it’s significant.
“The pyramid really emphasized grains, while the plate is more about fruits and vegetables,” said Hollombe. “Another difference is that while the pyramid referenced meat, the plate says protein, which acknowledges vegetarians. We’re very happy with the change because it’s also simple to follow for the average American. Also, the pyramid image was confusing to many patients.”
Hollombe explained that people can envision a dinner plate; they were never able to connect a pyramid to their meals.
Plate as an Educational Tool
For employees and the patients they help, Hollombe thinks the new plate image will provide a simpler guideline for healthy eating. No counting or adding is necessary. Just follow the colored quadrant guidelines in the new plate image to create a well-balanced meal.
“Our weight management program stands as is, but we modified the content to reflect the new MyPlate graphic,” explained Hollombe. “For instance, our upcoming Healthy Weight webinar incorporates the change, so you’ll see some new suggestions on what to eat and how to eat.”
Kaiser Permanente’s Healthy Weight Online classes will reflect the plate image with tips on how to make better food choices. Similarly, the monthly Health Talks Online will address healthy eating.
Nora Norback, MPH, RD, CDE, is a registered dietician based at Kaiser Permanente in Richmond, Calif. She is on the frontline of fighting the fallout from members who have little or no access to healthy food. Thirty-six percent of fifth-graders in Richmond are overweight.
“I’ve always told people to eat a lot of vegetables. No single symbol is going to encapsulate every single thing we need to eat healthfully, but this certainly makes more sense.”
Norback has started introducing MyPlate to everyone from physicians during grand rounds to her patients who are currently fighting diabetes. She advises members to keep a visual of the plate in mind, then try to emulate it, especially when they eat out. She said Americans get one-third of their calories at restaurants.
“My Plate is an education tool to communicate in a really simple way healthy eating,” Norback said. “But we still need to do everything we can to make nutritious food affordable, convenient, available and good-tasting. That’s what it will take for people to make changes.”
Hollombe added that the plate is a great starting point for Kaiser Permanente members who would like to eat healthier. The main messages are to load up on fruits and vegetables, seek out whole grains, add some dairy to your meal, and watch your portion sizes.
“It dovetails with our objective to encourage members and employees to live healthier lives and Kaiser Permanente’s focus on preventive care,” Hollombe said.