While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet for weight loss, there are certain things healthy eating plans have in common, such as prioritizing a wide variety of whole foods, incorporating flexibility and making it a sustainable lifestyle. The plate diet aims to do just that while emphasizing portion control. This method involves dividing your plate into imaginary sections and using each section for a specific group of food: fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins. Fruits and vegetables should fill half the plate and grains and protein should fill the other half of the plate.
Here’s what you need to know about the plate diet and how it could potentially help you with your nutrition and weight-loss goals:
THINK PLATE, NOT PYRAMID
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shifted the “healthy eating icon” from the traditional pyramid to the Healthy Eating Plate in an effort to help Americans better understand portion control and encourage people to eat more fruits, vegetables and healthy grains. The plate diet is based on this ideology.
PLATE SIZE MATTERS
The average American dinner plate is about 12 inches in diameter, which has increased 2–3 inches in the last 50 years. The average American waistline is up, too, as obesity rates have tripled in the same time period. Since people tend to fill their plates and eat what’s on them, bigger plates mean more calories are consumed, which can lead to weight gain. Choosing a 9-inch plate (recommended by the plate diet) over a 12-inch one reduces the surface area by 44% and helps you reduce your caloric intake to support weight loss.
FRUITS AND VEGGIES TAKE CENTER STAGE
The plate diet begins with plants. To build your meal, you first fill half the plate with non-starchy fruits and vegetables. Plant-based foods are high in satiating fiber, essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They’re also low in saturated fat and calories, meaning you get more bang for your buck. Non-starchy vegetables include things like dark leafy greens, broccoli, mushrooms, cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant, asparagus, green beans, sprouts, peppers, snow peas and zucchini.
THE TYPE OF CARBS MATTER
Next, fill a 1/4 of your plate with whole grains or starchy veggies. Unlike simple carbs (i.e., white bread or white-flour pasta), complex carbs take longer to digest, meaning they won’t spike your blood sugar levels and cause energy crashes. They’re also rich in fiber so you feel full longer. It’s best to choose unprocessed whole-grains like brown rice, quinoa, oats, farro and whole-wheat bread. These are higher in protein and fiber, helping slow the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream. Vegetables can be used to bulk up a traditionally carb-heavy meal; like adding cauliflower rice to traditional rice or zucchini noodles to pasta. Starchy vegetables include regular and sweet potatoes, squash, chickpeas, dried peas (lentils and split peas), corn and root vegetables like beets and turnips. They make a wonderful addition to your non-starchy green half of the plate.
PROTEIN PLAYS A SMALLER ROLE
The last 1/4 of your plate is dedicated to protein. The body requires protein for everyday growth and cell functions; it helps build and repair muscle tissue and can keep you fuller for longer periods of time. However, the plate diet puts a smaller emphasis on protein because most Americans average more than 100 grams per day (about twice the daily recommended amount), and consuming too much can backfire by causing weight gain. A restaurant portion of steak can be as much as 12 ounces (or 3/4 of a pound) — and those calories can add up quickly. Instead, a quarter of a 9-inch plate leaves room for about 4 ounces of protein. Opt for lean sources such as fish, chicken, turkey, eggs, tofu and beans.
HEALTHY FATS ARE STILL IMPORTANT
Fats may not have a designated space in the plate diet, but they do play a very important role, as fat helps us absorb all of the healthy fat-soluble vitamins in proteins and plant-based foods and keeps us satiated. It also adds flavor to veggies and grains and elevates lean proteins. Use plant-based oils to cook and sear lean protein, wilt greens and caramelize vegetables. Nuts, seeds, nut butters and avocado are also examples of healthy fats to include in your diet.
IT CAN HELP WITH COUNTING MACROS
Macro counting tracks the percentage of calories coming from carbs, protein and fat. For many people, a good place to start for weight loss is 50% carb; 25% protein and 25% fat, and adjust from there, which you can do with an app like MyFitnessPal. The plate diet can help you hit this target range by building your plate with 1/2 non-starchy vegetables (which do contain some carbs, just not as concentrated), 1/4 carbs from whole grains and 1/4 protein while using healthy oils and fats to add flavor. You can tinker with your plate size and portions to adjust to your individual macros.
IT CAN HELP STABILIZE SUGAR
The plate diet is often used in diabetes management, which is all about managing blood sugar. Carbohydrates have the greatest effect on blood sugar and are limited to just a quarter of a meal. When you make non-starchy vegetables the center of attention, you put the focus more on foods that don’t spike insulin and cause other metabolic issues.
YOU’LL HAVE TO CUT BACK ON DAIRY
Dairy is a source of fat, protein and carbohydrates, but it also raises blood sugar. The plate diet recommends consuming it in moderation. For example, try a little cheese to help boost the flavors of your non-starchy side of the plate. Or enjoy a few spoonfuls of yogurt with your berries, rather than a few berries with a giant bowl of yogurt.
IT COULD SUPPORT OVERALL HEALTH
Eating more plant-based foods is linked with lower levels of inflammation, improved heart health, and decreased risk of other diseases like some cancers. Since the plate diet encourages you to eat fewer animal products and more plant-based ones, it could positively affect your overall health.
Discover hundreds of healthy recipes via “Recipe Discovery” in the MyFitnessPal app.