You’ve probably heard of the Mediterranean Diet and the MyPlate Method, but what about Harvard University’s Healthy Eating Plate?
Back in 2011, nutrition experts at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health collaborated with researchers at Harvard Health Publications to create a nutritional plan for optimal health.
“Regarding major chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease prevention, various cancers [and] Type 2 diabetes, this type of diet will be helpful in preventing these diseases that are rampant in America and the world,” said Lilian Cheung, associate professor of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health.
Now that longevity and healthy aging are more popular than ever, people are looking for more ways to live longer, and the Harvard Diet has made its way back into the news.
What is the “Harvard Diet”?
The Harvard Diet is actually Harvard’s plate of healthy eating and can be used as a guide to “creating healthy, balanced meals,” according to The Nutrition Source, a section of the Harvard website that provides nutritional information.
When it comes to nutrition, prioritize vegetables and fruits for half of each meal and supplement the other half with whole grains and healthy proteins.
Here’s a thorough breakdown of how to set your plate.
1. Vegetables and fruits should be a priority in most meals (1/2 of your plate)
When serving your veggies, “strive for color and variety,” and eat slightly more veggies than fruit, the researchers suggest.
One thing to remember about this diet: “Nutritionally, a potato is not a vegetable,” says Cheung.
Why? You can ask. Well, “Potatoes behave almost like refined carbohydrates. They raise blood sugar,” she adds.
It’s also important to add whole fruits to meals, and Cheung particularly recommends reaching for them instead of juice.
2. Add whole grains (1/4 of your plate)
Compared to the US Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate method, the Harvard Diet dictates the type of grains you should be eating. The plan strongly recommends eating whole grains as opposed to refined grains.
“Whole grain has a lot more vitamins and also phytochemicals and minerals, which is much healthier for us and doesn’t grow [our] blood sugar so fast,” says Cheung.
A few whole grains to consider are:
- Andean millet
- Whole grains (including whole wheat bread and pasta)
- Brown rice
3. Get some healthy protein (1/4 of your plate)
More than most diets, the Healthy Eating Plate pops up which proteins are healthy for you and which ones you should limit in your diet.
Some healthy proteins are:
According to Cheung, you should aim to limit your red meat consumption and avoid processed meats like bacon and sausage entirely if you can.
4. Cook with healthy oils (in moderation)
To avoid consuming unhealthy trans fats, it’s recommended not to cook with partially hydrogenated oils like margarine and certain vegetable oils.
Instead, Cheung recommends reaching for healthier options, such as:
- Peanut (unless you are allergic)
5. Go over milk for water, tea and coffee
“We put a lot of thought into the drinks,” says Cheung. For years, the recommendation was to drink three cups of milk every day, she adds.
“We didn’t think this was the wisest way to go, especially since there are some populations in the US that are lactose intolerant,” says Cheung.
“Even with the amount of calories that comes from drinking [milk] That way it would be better to drink water, tea or coffee.”
The Harvard Diet encourages you to alternate between water, tea, and coffee to pair with your meals, especially those with little to no sugar.
In addition, they suggest reducing milk and milk consumption to one to two servings per day and juice to one small glass per day. If possible, avoid sugary drinks altogether.
6. Move your body
What makes the meal plan unique, however, is the lack of staying active, which is almost as prominent as the food and drink breakdown.
“We have to get involved [for] half an hour a day or at least five times a week with intense activity,” notes Cheung.
She encourages you to get physically active through brisk walking and fitness classes. However, the key is not to sit for most of the day.
“We’re all aging and should develop good habits from a young age,” says Cheung, “so that they become part of our habit and routine.”
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