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The New Food Plate: Ask the Nutritionist

Registered dietitian Carolyn O'Neil answers your questions about the new USDA "MyPlate" and what it means for you.

Question:
What is the new food plate?
Answer:

The new food plate, or MyPlate on www.choosemyplate.gov, is part of the USDA’s food guidance system designed to help Americans eat healthier. The MyPlate icon provides a simplified representation of daily intake amounts for each of the main food groups. The plate is half-comprised of fruits and vegetables. On the remaining half, one-quarter is designated for protein, and the other quarter for grains. Beside the plate, a cup is included in the illustration to represent the recommended 3 cups per day of dairy for people aged 9 and up.

Question:
I was recently diagnosed with gluten intolerance. What kind of gluten-free products would you recommend I try as a replacement for the usual carbohydrates that are included in most meals and snacks?
Answer:

There are many gluten-free product choices, including pastas, breads, and crackers. Remember that these products may be gluten-free, but they are not calorie-free. You will still want to pay attention to your portion sizes.

Question:
What are the best types of diet foods to snack on?
Answer:

The best types of diet foods to snack on are high in water and fiber content, such as vegetables. Add a protein source to your snacks, such as fat-free milk or yogurt, to help you feel fuller longer.

Question:
My husband and I want to start eating healthier. We both need to lose about 15 pounds. He thinks all we're supposed to eat are salads, but I know there are other options for healthy weight loss. What do you suggest?
Answer:

Low-fat salads are a good choice. But be sure to include lean protein sources to your diet to help you feel fuller longer and to help you maintain important muscle mass.

Question:
Is eating one not-so-healthy meal a day bad for you?
Answer:

Assuming you mean a meal that is high in calories and fat, if you did that every day you would most likely gain weight. Think of sugary high-fat foods as accessories to your diet. Use them sparingly.

Question:
Food prices have skyrocketed. And the price of organics and natural foods has always been higher. How can I provide healthy meals and snacks for my family on a tight budget?
Answer:

You don't have to buy organic to provide your family healthy foods. Buy fruits and vegetables in season, when they are less expensive and actually taste best. Turn to the humble diet heroes that are more affordable, such as eggs, beans, and less expensive cuts of beef that are lower in fat and in price.

Question:
How much sodium should I have a day?
Answer:

It's clear that Americans have a taste for salt. But salt plays a role in the development of high blood pressure. Everyone, including kids, should maintain a sodium intake of less than 2300 mg, or about 1 teaspoon, of sodium a day. Adults aged 51 and older, African-Americans, and individuals with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease should reduce their sodium intake to no more than 1500 mg a day.

Question:
Is breakfast sausage "unhealthy"? Are there any healthy sausages?
Answer:

When shopping for breakfast sausages, be sure to compare the number of fat grams on the Nutrition Facts labels. Most of these products can be pretty high in sodium, so remember to compare those amounts, as well. I recommend breakfast sausages made with turkey. Canadian bacon is also a better choice as a lean breakfast meat.

Question:
Are there certain foods I should eat -- or avoid -- to lose belly fat?
Answer:

This is a very popular question. But belly fat builds when we eat too much food in general. Rather than focusing on certain types of foods, I recommend revving up your exercise routine with more cardio, such as walking or jogging. And add strength training to your regimen by using weights and resistance. Pilates and yoga classes can also be helpful in the effort to strengthen your core.

Question:
What are the best types of tools you would recommend I have to make sure my portion sizes are correct?
Answer:

I recommend starting with a small kitchen scale in order to get more familiar with what certain sizes of food look like. For instance, 1 serving of lean meat should be about the size of a deck of cards and you should be able to hold it in the palm of your hand.

Question:
I am always hungry! It doesn't matter what I eat or how much. I'm always ready to eat by usually an hour after just eating. What can I do to stay satiated longer?
Answer:

The most important thing you can do to stay fuller longer is to include a good source of protein in all your snacks and meals.

Question:
I find myself eating from boredom a lot, even if I'm not hungry. I'm at a good weight and I'm fit. But I wonder. How can I make myself stop eating mindlessly? Could this habit have any negative effects for me in the future?
Answer:

You must be more thoughtful about what you're eating. Focus on and savor the flavors in your food. As we get older our metabolism does slow down a bit. So learning to eat mindfully early is a good thing for the long run. Don’t eat out of bags or packages. Put your food on a plate and take the time to enjoy your food while you eat. Eating too fast or while your attention is elsewhere may lead you to eat more than you realize. Pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues before, during, and after your meals and snacks. Use these cues to determine when you will eat and when you should stop eating.

Question:
How much protein should an adult female eat every day?
Answer:

Most people, aged 9 and older, should eat 5 to 7 ounces of protein a day.

Question:
Is the nutritional value of fresh whole fruits any better than canned or frozen fruit? Do you lose any nutritional value by slicing or pureeing fruit?
Answer:

Canned and frozen fruits are nutritious, convenient, and often more affordable than fresh fruits. Choose canned fruits packed in their own juices, not in heavy syrups. Frozen fruit can often have even more nutrients than fresh fruit, because it's frozen at the time of harvest.

Question:
What time of night should I stop eating? Is it OK if I only eat raw fruits and/or veggies late at night?
Answer:

When you eat depends on your personal schedule. If you're hungry late at night, you may not have eaten enough for dinner. If you want a snack before bedtime, avoid foods and beverages with caffeine in them. Avoid fried and high-fat foods because they can cause indigestion. A sliced apple or a few baby carrots would make good choices. Raw fruits and veggies provide fiber for better digestion, fluid for hydration, important vitamins and minerals, and are generally low in calories. So they would certainly make good choices as late-night snacks.

Question:
I can’t have fresh fruit. I know I need to have fruits in my diet, but canned fruit contains lots of sugary syrup. What are my other options?
Answer:

Choose canned fruits packed in their own juices, which should be stated on their labels. Frozen fruits are good options, too.

Question:
How worried should I be about eating and cleaning raw vegetables during my pregnancy, or any other time for that matter?
Answer:

Raw veggies are great sources for the healthy nutrients that you need during pregnancy. But pregnant women should be even more careful to practice good food safety habits for their health and the health of their babies.

The USDA recommends that everyone wash fruits and vegetables very carefully before preparing or eating them. So, be sure to rub all consumed portions of your fruits and vegetables under clean, running water briskly with your hands to remove dirt and surface microorganisms.

Thank you for joining us for WebMD Ask the Nutritionist. Be sure to check in on Wednesday, March 14, at 1 p.m. ET, when we will discuss how to snack smarter and enjoy what you're eating. Sign up if you'd like an email reminder the day before the event.

WebMD Ask the Specialist Transcript

Reviewed by Carolyn O'Neil, MS, RD on February 06, 2012

The opinions expressed in this section are of the Specialist and the Specialist alone. They do not reflect the opinions of WebMD and they have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance or objectivity. WebMD is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on WebMD. 

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