‘MyPlate’ The Harvard recipe for eating healthy and avoiding obesity

At the beginning of this year, researchers from the Hospital del Mar Institute released alarming data on obesity in Spain. The study estimated that in 2016 there were 24 million overweight adults in our country, of the 70% men and 50% women over 16 years of age.

After analyzing the data and monitoring more than 300,000 people between 1987 and 2014, the researchers estimate that by the year 2030 80% of Spanish men will be obese or overweight.

This trend coincides with the data from European and North American countries and even with that of developing countries.

With this reality, the concern of researchers about what is already considered the epidemic of the 21st century increases every day.

Because being overweight and obese are not a cosmetic issue. Not even its consequences are limited to the psychic problems of feeling rejected, which are already tremendous.

Overweight and obesity are associated with very serious health conditions such as heart risk, cancer or fatty liver, hypertension, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease … that could be solved with something theoretically as simple as a healthy and balanced diet.

But the reality is far from easy. Mainly due to the personal effort required to change eating habits in a daily routine marked by haste and stress.

And because of the complications that the proliferation of recommendations and easy recipes to lose weight that circulate on the networks and never work. Or they give it short and are worse long.


“As the first thing we need to eat well is to know what we should eat, nutrition experts at the Harvard School of Public Health have developed a simple, clear and scientifically-supported guide to preparing healthy and balanced meals.”

With this formula, they surpass the classic model of the nutritional pyramid, whose order and composition have undergone modifications as research on food has advanced.
This new formula is called ‘MyPlate’, the “Healthy Eating Plate”, and it is intended to become a useful recipe that is very easy to follow.
So much so that the university’s own proposal is that families can stick the ‘MyPlate’ recipe on their home refrigerator to prepare their meals every day.
The formula is called MyPlate because experts have divided a plate into the four types of food we should eat. And they have done it as follows:

Half of the plate must be filled with vegetables and fruits

With a little ingenuity, you can add color and variety to your food. But never forgetting that potatoes here do not count as vegetables, due to their negative effect on blood sugar.

¼ plate, with whole grains

Meals made with whole grains, with all their nutrients intact, such as oats, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, barley, corn, whole wheat bread, pasta or crackers, wild rice … have a more moderate effect on sugar and insulin than white bread, white rice, and other refined grains.

The last ¼, with healthy proteins

Fish, chicken, legumes like beans, lentils, chickpeas, and natural nuts are healthy and versatile sources of protein – they can be mixed into salads, and pair well with vegetables on a plate.
In addition, in this section, we must limit red meats and avoid processed meats such as bacon, sausages, or various sausages.

And once we have the four parts of the plate, there are other basic notions that we must be clear about and that we can surely remember easily.

The oils, always of vegetable origin and in moderation

It is best to opt for oils of vegetable origin, such as olive oil, sunflower, corn, soy…. The consumption of kinds of butter, margarine, and other partially hydrogenated oils should be sporadic. And beware, something labeled “low fat” is not necessarily healthy.

When we drink sugary drinks, all we will do is eat calories with little nutritional value, so if we eliminate them from our diet, the better.

As for milk and dairy, the American formula indicates a moderate consumption of one or two servings a day. And a natural fruit juice a day will be enough. ”

With that said, the main message of The Plate for Healthy Eating is to focus on the quality of the diet.

And, as almost always, the quality of the carbohydrates is more important than the quantity. Vegetables (except potatoes), fruits, whole grains, and legumes (beans, lentils, and chickpeas) are the best sources of carbohydrates. ”

Nor does this formula set a calorie maximum.

And given the general rules to follow, it is better to go into detail with each part of the plate to explain what a good portion of healthy carbohydrates, proteins, vegetables, and fruits consists of, with the accompaniment of oils, dairy products, and drinks.


“There are about a dozen types of fruits and vegetables, each containing different types and amounts of nutrients.”

Therefore, it is essential that the intake of these products is varied. Because only then can we take advantage of the benefits provided by each and every one of the nutrients.

If you want to find an ideal way to achieve variety, most nutritional experts agree that it is best to let yourself be carried away by nature and ‘play’ at all times with what the field gives in those days. Because eating fresh vegetables is the best decision.

Another formula is to take advantage of the color to come out with a much more attractive shopping cart. Oranges, reds, greens, yellows, purples …

And once you have everything, it is essential that you look for new recipes, because with fruits and vegetables you can make many more things than the typical salad, the garden soup, and the fruit salad.

Having achieved this, know that it is scientifically proven that the increase in the consumption of fruits and vegetables has a positive impact on our health. First of all, because they contain indigestible fiber that helps calm the symptoms of irritable bowel, prevent constipation, and diverticulosis.

In addition, fruits and vegetables affect cardiovascular diseases. Studies show that the higher the amount we eat of these types of foods, the lower the chances of developing ailments like heart attacks or strokes.

Specifically, there is a belief that green leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach, orchard, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cabbage, or cauliflower, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Research on hypertension, the silent disease, indicates that with a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, combined with low-fat dairy and reduced saturated fat, systolic blood pressure, high, is reduced by 11 mm Hg, and the low or diastolic by almost 6 mm Hg.

Regarding the relationship between the consumption of fruits and vegetables and cancer, there is no evidence that a diet rich in these products prevents the disease. but it is suspected that some fruits and vegetables can protect against certain types of tumors.

“Teenagers who eat 3 pieces of fruit daily reduce breast cancer risk by

For example, some studies developed in the US, and which serve more as a clue than as a scientific fact, indicate that those subjects who in their adolescence consumed a large amount of fruit per day (about 3 pieces) have a 25% lower risk of developing cancer breast.

Some specific components of these foods are also being investigated, such as lycopene in tomatoes, and their ability to protect against mouth, throat, and lung cancer.

Another benefit of increasing the number of pieces of fruit that we eat daily is that it helps reduce the risk of type II diabetes, which usually appears in adulthood.

But beware! The fruit should be eaten whole, not in juice, which contributes to increasing the chances of developing this disease.

In conclusion, berries (cherries, blackberries, blueberries …), apples, pears, cauliflower are associated with weight loss, while starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, and peas are associated with the gain of weight.

We are going to finish serving our first course with an important warning that Harvard experts make and insist over and over again. In spite of us, potatoes do not count as a vegetable due to their high sugar content.


“Until the 19th century, cereals were consumed in their entirety, that is, the grain was complete and included three elements: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.”

It is with the industrial revolution when the whole grain begins to be refined, to increase its shelf life.
But the reality is that once refined, the nutrient load of the cereal decreases.

Bran provides our body with vitamin B, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. In addition, it helps the transformation of starch into glucose, keeping the sugar levels in our body stable.

The germ is rich in good fats, vitamins E and B, phytochemicals, and antioxidants.

And the endosperm is not far behind, nutritional tissue that surrounds the germ and that contains carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals.
And since not only the amount of carbohydrates we consume is important, but, above all, their quality, a diet rich in whole grains causes a significant decrease in bad cholesterol levels, triglycerides and insulin levels. And all this reduces the incidence of cardiovascular diseases.

Carbohydrates and diabetes

Talking about carbohydrates forces you to make a stop to specify their role in diabetes, in this case, type II diabetes.

When we eat bread, rice, or pasta, our body transforms all its components into sugar. By increasing blood sugar levels, our pancreas must produce more insulin than it absorbs.

Consequently, consuming carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (white bread, grains, and refined cereals, etc.), increase the spikes in blood sugar, increasing the risk of suffering from type II diabetes, heart disease, and being overweight.

That is why it is convenient to opt for ones that have a lower glycemic load, such as whole cereals, legumes, whole wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, oats, etc.

In fact, simply substituting whole grains for refined grains and consuming them at least twice a day reduces your risk of type II diabetes.

In addition, the high fiber content of whole carbohydrates makes our stools softer, preventing constipation and diverticula, as happened with vegetables.
Regarding the incidence of whole-grain consumption in cancer, studies are inconclusive. But what is clear is that they do not have a negative influence.


“Proteins are the nutrients that perform the greatest number of functions in the cells of all living beings.”

They are part of the structure of muscles, bones, skin, hair … and practically any other part of the body or tissues.

And they also have a metabolic and regulatory function. They drive many chemical reactions and hemoglobin that carries oxygen in the blood.

At least 10,000 different proteins make us what we are and keep us that way.

To give us an idea, although it may sound a bit technical, protein is made of more than twenty basic components called amino acids.
But the human being does not store amino acids, so our body must produce them. And it does it in two different ways: from scratch or by modifying others.

Also, and this is very important, nine amino acids that are known as essential amino acids, can only be obtained from food intake.

Where are the proteins?

In the diet, it is possible to distinguish between proteins of plant origin or of animal origin. Plant-based proteins are found in nuts, soybeans, legumes, mushrooms, and cereals.

Proteins of animal origin are found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.

How much protein do I need?

The US National Academy of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day. About 50 grams per day for a person weighing 65 kilos.

And it is important to take our daily ‘ration’ of protein. Millions of people around the world, especially young children, cannot take enough, and the effects range from stunting to growth to death from a weakening of the heart or respiratory system.

But be careful because when choosing our protein ration, not everything goes. We have to try to know what each food gives us, which goes beyond proteins and may or may not be healthy.

For example, a good 100 gram grilled sirloin steak contains a lot of protein, but it also includes a significant percentage of saturated fat that is not recommended in large amounts.

A serving of ham also has a lot of protein, and it doesn’t have a lot of fat, but it is loaded with a high dose of sodium. In contrast, 100 grams of grilled sockeye salmon also has a lot of protein (about 30 grams), but it is also low in sodium and contains just over 1 gram of saturated fat. Salmon and other fatty fish are also excellent sources of omega-3 fats, a type of fat that is especially good for the heart.

And if we go to legumes, a cup of cooked lentils provides approximately 18 grams of protein, 15 grams of fiber … and has practically no saturated fat or sodium.

So, it is best to obtain the necessary protein for our body from the consumption of legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Or we can also find the essential amino acids in fish, shellfish, poultry, and eggs.



Overcome the classic model of reducing the consumption of fats in the diet,

“The most recent studies have shown the need to consume fats, yes, “good” or unsaturated fats, to keep our cholesterol at bay”

And what are unsaturated fats? There are two types, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, present in vegetable oils (extra virgin olive, corn, sunflower …), in nuts, and in fish. These foods reduce the risk of type II diabetes and heart disease, in addition to controlling our cholesterol levels.

The “star” of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3s. The body cannot produce it and it is essential to reduce many risks. So, eating fish 2 or 3 times a week and nuts can be a good way to ensure omega-3 intake. There is another group of foods, such as red meat, butter, cheese, or ice cream, which contain saturated fat, and should be eaten in moderation. It is important to note that some fats of vegetable origin, such as coconut oil or palm oil, also contain saturated fats.

Research on saturated fat indicates that taking too much can increase the risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke, although studies are inconclusive. The most advisable thing is to replace the intake of saturated fats with unsaturated fats as much as possible.

The last type of fats are known as trans fats, the consumption of which poses a clear risk to health. They are obtained through a process called hydrogenation that makes them more stable and able to last longer in our pantry. Its impact on the arteries, heart, and our body in general, is very negative. They increase bad cholesterol (LDL). they lower the good (HDL) and increase the resistance to insulin.

So, industrial pastries or pre-cooked dishes will not have a place in our daily diet.

Dairy products

From our earliest childhood, milk has become an essential element in our life. Mothers, fathers, and grandparents are constantly reminding us of the need to drink plenty of milk to grow and have strong bones. Well, nutritionists at Harvard University point out that milk is not the only or the best source of calcium.

There is a certainty among experts that calcium reduces the risk of osteoporosis and colon cancer, but it is also true that its consumption is very high doses can cause cancer of the prostate and, according to some studies, of the ovaries.

Added to this reluctance to milk is the high content of saturated fat in dairy products, and its high retinol (vitamin A) load, which in high doses can weaken bones.

And it is not that we should eliminate dairy from our diet, especially in children, but according to Harvard nutritionist experts we should reduce them to a couple of daily servings, and always milk and yogurt without flavors, that is, natural.

According to this study, we will supplement our need for calcium with the consumption of green leafy vegetables, broccoli, beans, or soy milk.
And another important thing, although you don’t eat: the sun. Exposing ourselves to the sun’s rays will provide us with vitamin D and exercising regularly will contribute to the development and strengthening of our bones.


” On the shelves of supermarkets, we can find a large number of liquid options to accompany our meals and dinners. Juices, coffee, milk, sports drinks, energy drinks, spirits…. But sorry, the best option to hydrate is water. ”

Recommended water consumption

-2.5 liters per day for adult males
-2.0 liters per day for adult women
-2.1 liters per day for boys 9-13 years
-1.9 liters per day for girls 9-13 years

It is the simplest, cheapest, and totally sugar-free resource. It provides us with everything the body needs to recover the fluids we lose when we breathe, sweat, and metabolic processes. And how much water should we consume? The European Food Safety Authority determines that adult men should consume 2.5 liters of water per day and 2 liters per day for adult women. For minors between 9 and 13 years old, the recommended consumption is 2.1 liters/day for boys and 1.9 liters/day for girls. But these amounts can vary on some occasions. If we exercise, live in very hot places, or have a fever, we will have to drink more to compensate for the loss of fluids.

Recipes to replace sugary drinks with water

For those used to having lunch and dinner with sugary drinks, the transition to water can be a bit difficult, so we offer you some ideas on how to ‘tune’ the water by adding slices of lemon, orange, lime, or grapefruit, to give it a slight flavor. Or accompany it with mint leaves, spearmint, ginger, or any fresh aromatic herb.

Coffee and tea, healthy and recommended

Herbal teas and coffee are healthy options for drinking water. And Harvard researchers rank coffee and tea as the healthiest drinks, after water.

The first, consumed in moderate amounts (2 or 3 cups daily), can reduce the risk of diseases. Of course, it is not suitable for insomniacs or nervous people. And remember that American coffee is not European, neither in color, nor in taste, nor in the amount of caffeine.

As for tea, it is rich in polyphenols, an antioxidant that reduces the risk of heart disease, cardiovascular accidents, and diabetes.

Returning to the supermarket shelf, we focus on juices and milk. They must be consumed in moderation. Juices are high in sugar, so the whole fruit is better than juice. Even so, the American university does not reject the intake of a small glass daily, but no more. Although we have already talked about milk, remember to limit its consumption in adults and opt for low-fat or semi-skimmed milk.

“Just 60 minutes of intense exercise warrant drinking sports drinks”

In the case of sports drinks, only the performance of a high-intensity exercise for more than 60 minutes justifies their consumption to provide glucose, fluids, and electrolytes that have been lost during the effort.

Sports drinks should not be confused with energy drinks, which, in addition to containing a large number of sugars, include other substances such as caffeine, B vitamins, guarana, or ginseng. These products can cause increased stress, obesity, diabetes, or stomach irritation.

We are done with alcohol. In general, it is recommended that its consumption be very sporadic. Some studies have indicated that red wine had beneficial properties for our hearts, but epidemiological studies have never confirmed this.

In summary, “The Plate for Healthy Eating” does not establish the specific amounts that we should eat of each food, but rather guides us in which foods to eat and which are the best for our health.

And the recipe is valid both to eat at home and to take away in our Tupperware. So, we no longer have excuses, let’s put in our refrigerator the graphic of this balanced dish in our kitchen … and put imagination into the stove to make the healthiest things tastier.

And if we also accompany our good diet with some exercise, we will have a large part of the preventive work done.

Take advantage!


NAOS is the Strategy for Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Prevention of Obesity, which was launched by the Ministry of Health in 2005, following the policies set by international health organizations, such as the WHO.
Its goal is to reverse the trend toward obesity by promoting healthy eating and physical activity. And it aims to substantially reduce the high rates of morbidity and mortality attributable to noncommunicable diseases. Thus, one of the main objectives of NAOS is that the projection of the obesity trend predicted by 80% of overweight Spanish men in 2020 is not fulfilled. By the way, the NAOS strategy is directed above all towards children, young people, and the most disadvantaged population groups, And its basis is scientific evidence, as evidenced by the composition of its scientific ‘team’.


SWEETENERS: they do not make a food less fattening

Social awareness of the need to reduce sugar consumption is growing. And the solution in many cases is to replace it with artificial sweeteners. In this section, the most used are aspartame, acesulfame K, saccharin, sucralose, neotame, advantage, and stevia. In addition to these, there are a series of sugar alcohols whose caloric intake is slightly lower than that of sugar. They are sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, mannitol, entriotol, and maltitol.

These products, present in gum, cookies, ice cream, beverages, and even in medicines, do not cause cavities or cause spikes in blood sugar. Of course, its consumption in large quantities can cause diarrhea and gas.

Regarding the incidence of these sugar substitute sweeteners on health, there are no conclusive studies. Even so, it is recommended to limit its consumption in children. And make no mistake: the fact that a food has sweeteners does not make it fattening less, since in many cases they have more fat than sugary ones.

SALT: experts say that reducing the 30% does not change the taste

The incidence of salt in arterial hypertension is proven. That is why it is important to moderate its consumption from childhood. And if children get used to slightly bland foods, their blood pressure will stay better.
Most of the salt and sodium that reach our bodies do so from the processed foods we eat, including sweet foods like cookies and breakfast cereals. Cheeses and tinned food also provide a lot of salt. And be very careful with restaurant meals! They are usually saltier than they should be.

Reducing salt and sodium does not mean that our meals lose flavor since experts say that our taste buds are not able to perceive a reduction in the salt of 30%. There are alternatives to flavor foods such as herbs, spices, citrus fruits, and low sodium salts.

Harvard specialists point out a study that states that just by reducing your daily sodium intake by half a teaspoon, about 99,000 heart attacks and 66,000 strokes caused by hypertension would be avoided.

CHOLESTEROL: how it works

One of the diseases that our diet influences the most is cholesterol. A substance similar to fat and whose presence in our body is essential. It is found in our cells and we need it to make estrogen, testosterone, bile acids, vitamin D, and other substances.

But cholesterol does not dissolve in a liquid medium, so it is transported in lipoproteins through the blood. The most important lipoproteins are those of low intensity, the famous bad cholesterol, and those of high intensity are known as good cholesterol.

Bad cholesterol (LDL) is the most present in the body and is responsible for transporting this substance from the liver to the tissues for use. If the amount of LDL in our blood increases, the risk of cardiovascular disease increases.

Good cholesterol (HDL) collects cholesterol from the bloodstream and tissues and carries it to the liver for elimination through the bile. A low level of HDL cholesterol increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

It is important for people who react a lot to cholesterol in food to reduce their intake of saturated fats, trans fats, and foods such as eggs and cheese.

Type II diabetes, a disease that can be prevented

14% of Spaniards, 5.3 million people, have diabetes. Of these, between 90-95% suffer from type 2 diabetes, a type of disease that can be prevented. For this, nutrition experts advise fleeing obesity and overweight, opt for whole grains, eliminate sugary drinks, consume unsaturated fats, and limit red meat.

In addition, exercise improves the body’s ability to properly use insulin and absorb glucose.