Elissa’s Perfect Plate

As the New Year quickly approaches, I want to discuss one topic that can either significantly help or hinder your journey towards improved health in 2021: food strategy guidelines. This is a timely topic as the 2020-2025 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines guidelines will be released today. The USDA also offers a widely referred to tool called MyPlate, which is designed to help people eat proper proportions and consume the necessary food groups. These standard guidelines have some benefit as they focus on variety and nutrition. They recommend limiting saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars, and getting your fill of fresh fruits and vegetables, which are all very important tactics when it comes to eating for nourishment. 

However, I believe that most of the standardized food guidelines in the U.S. promote some problematic misconceptions. For example, they recommend consuming dairy every day. Dairy, even when low in fat or free of it, can have harmful effects—studies even suggest a link to Parkinson’s—and should not be considered a healthful food to consume every single day. I also found some essential food groups missing from the various standardized food guidelines. That is why I have decided to put my own daily holistic food strategy guide together: Elissa’s Perfect Plate.

Non-Starchy Vegetables (1/2 Plate)

Half of every plate of food that you consume should be dedicated to non-starchy vegetables because they are loaded with essential vitamins, minerals, and other disease-preventing nutrients. The best non-starchy veggies include:

  • Leafy Greens & Lettuces: Romaine, Red Leaf Lettuce, Butter Leaf
  • Bitter Greens: Kale, Dandelion Greens, Radicchio, Collard Greens, Endive, Mustard Greens, Watercress, Spinach, Arugula, Broccoli Rabe
  • Other Vegetables: Alfalfa Sprouts, Artichoke, Asparagus, Bean Sprouts, Bok Choy, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Celery, Cabbage, Cucumber, Eggplant, Fennel, Garlic, Green Beans, Herbs (Basil, Parsley, Mint, Cilantro, Rosemary, Thyme, Dill, Sage, Chives), Leeks, Mushrooms, Onions (Yellow, Red, Shallots, Scallions, Sweet), Peppers (Bell, Shishito, Jalapeño, Serrano), Radishes, Rainbow Chard, Tomatoes & Zucchini

Starches (1/4 Plate)

A fourth of your plate should always contain starches. Many people do not know that starch-based foods are so much more than just potatoes (though they make the list, too!). Some incredibly nutrient-dense starches include:

  • Amaranth*
  • Teff*
  • Beets
  • Buckwheat*
  • Carrots
  • Millet*
  • Sorghum*
  • Quinoa*
  • Green Peas*
  • Parsnips
  • Potatoes (Red, Fingerling, Russet, Purple)
  • Pumpkin
  • Squash (Butternut, Delicata, Spaghetti, Acorn)
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Rice (Brown, Black, Wild, Jasmine, Basmati)
  • Turnips
  • Yams

*These can be substituted for a protein.

Protein (1/4 Plate)

I opt for plant-based protein whenever possible. If you eat animal protein, try to find grass-fed/organic/humanely raised lean meats like chicken, turkey, beef, and lamb or low mercury/wild-caught fish such as anchovies, cod, sole, salmon, and trout. Just remember a palm-size portion, or about 3oz, per meal is enough!

  • Tempeh (4oz per meal)
  • Tofu (4oz per meal)
  • Edamame/Soy (3/4 cup per meal)
  • Legumes – Lentils, Garbanzo Beans, Adzuki Beans, Black Beans, Cannelini Beans, Pinto Beans, Kidney (3/4 cup per meal)

Healthy Fats (1-2 Tbs Per Meal)

Government standardized food guides often leave out the healthy fat section and that is no Bueno. Healthy fats are an important part of a nutritious diet. They provide energy for our bodies, promote cell growth, and are necessary for healthy brain function. Some of my favorite healthy fat sources include:

  • Olive Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Pumpkin Seed Oil
  • Walnut Oil
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Grass-Fed Butter or Ghee
  • Avocado (oil or fruit)
  • Nuts & Seeds (Chia, Hemp* and Flax)
  • Nut & Seed Butters

*This can be substituted for a protein.

Berries (1 Cup Daily)

I always recommend eating at least 1 full cup of berries every day – and a variety of them, if possible. Berries are low in calories and a great source of antioxidants and fiber. Some of the varietals that I recommend eating daily include:

  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries

Skip These Foods

I recommend avoiding the following foods whenever possible:

  • Processed Foods
  • Added Sugars
  • GMO’s
  • Dairy (Sub with Almond, Cashew, Soy, Coconut, or Oat alternatives)
  • Canola Oil, Palm Oil, Shortening, Vegetable Oil, Corn Oil
  • Gluten

Eat a Variety of Plant Foods & Don’t Aim for Perfection

While it is always a good idea to be conscious of your serving sizes, try not to obsess over every calorie. You do not need to deny yourself every singly yummy dessert in a social setting because it contains a little bit of sugar. Our mental health plays a substantial role in our overall health, and our relationship to food is a balancing act that will likely be a work in progress for our entire lives. A good rule of thumb is to try to get as many leafy green vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, seeds, berries, and variety into your diet as possible. When you are filling up on delicious nutrient-dense foods, you will not have the capacity to eat or even crave junk foods.

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