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The new way to eat

Oct. 1, 2011
One plate at a time

One plate at a time

by Sheri B. Doniger, DDS

Over the years, we’ve seen the Basic Four turn into the food pyramid. But that was not the start of nutrition guidelines. In 1894, Dr. William Olin Atwater created a guideline to healthy eating in the Farmers Bulletin. Prior to the creation of the Basic Four, a Basic Seven food group was established in 1943, when wartime food rationing was a concern. From 1956 to 1992, the USDA plan included fruits and vegetables, milk, meat and cereals, and breads — the Basic Four.

Then along came the Food Guide Pyramid in 1992. Although it did try to recommend food servings, it considered breads, cereals, rice, and pasta to encompass six to eleven servings per day, with fruits and vegetables a distant second. In 2005, the colorful slices of My Pyramid emerged with a figure “climbing” up the pyramid that was supposed to subliminally represent exercise with good eating habits. Unlike its predecessors, this was highly confusing. Each food type (grains, vegetable, fruit, milk, meat, and beans) was given a colorful portion of the triangle, and an ubiquitous white tip was placed to represent the tiny use of discretionary calories, such as candy or alcohol.

Was this easy to understand? Not really. Was it easy to explain to our patients? Not at all. On June 2, 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture created a new icon of healthy eating. To accompany the goal of decreasing the astronomical obesity levels in our country, a plate was created to simplify healthy eating and increase awareness of the new federal dietary guidelines, as put forth by both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Two basic tenets were used as the basis of the guideline: “(to) maintain calorie balance over time to achieve and sustain a healthy weight, and (to) focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages.”1

The idea is simple: we eat off of plates. If we look at the plate, half should be comprised of fruits and vegetables. The other half should be comprised of whole grains and protein, with grains being a slightly larger portion than the proteins. Let’s not forget the glass of milk for every meal. How much easier can it get?

Several years ago I had to visit a nutritionist due to a cholesterol issue. She gave me the same advice, and diced up the plate just a little more by percentages: 60% to 75% of the plate contained complex carbohydrates as a main fuel source. Included in this group were whole grain rice, pasta, bread, potatoes, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Only these foods turn into glucose, which is the fuel for our bodies. Next, 15% to 20% was lean protein, so a little less than a quarter of the plate was protein. As you may recall, protein is our formative and reparative source. Then the smallest remainder was delegated to fats and sweets. After all, we need some good fats in our diet to create cell structure and hormones, and to use fat soluble vitamins. This is not too much different from the new plate concept.

I always thought the plate was a great idea, especially to show to patients, as I have done numerous times over the years. For someone who is constantly on a diet (for my health), my patients listen when I talk food to them. You can’t exactly go up to an obese patient and discuss their weight, but you can discuss the sequelae of type 2 diabetes.

We know what we “should” eat — more fruits and veggies, fewer “supersize” portions, more small meals, low fat items, and less sodium. We should drink more water and milk. Each of these things relate to a healthier lifestyle. Studies have shown links between healthier eating (along with increased physical activity) and decreased cancers, diabetes, cardiac issues, and osteoporosis. We know we should eat at a table from a plate in front of us, rather than stand in front of the sink or sit on the couch with the television as the focus. We need to translate these things into our daily lives to model health for our patients.

We are trying to teach our patients about overall healthy habits, including proper flossing and brushing. Sometimes we encounter patients with a high caries rate or an exponential increase in conversion from incipient to full caries. We want to look at all aspects of our patients’ oral health and try to help them find solutions to their oral concerns. Obviously, home care and regular dental visits play a pivotal role in the health of the teeth, as does diet. We should include nutritional assessments in treatment planning and implementation of restorative care. A patient with a high sucrose intake should be advised to find alternative sources of calories.

It is now much easier to demonstrate to patients the proper guide to healthy eating using the plate as a demonstration, rather than slices of a puzzling triangle. Being a knowledgeable role model will help us help our patients.

Sheri B. Doniger, DDS, has been in the private practice of family and preventive dentistry for more than 20 years. A dental hygiene graduate of Loyola University prior to receiving her dental degree, her current passion is focusing on women’s health and well-being issues. She may be contacted at (847) 677-1101 or [email protected].

1. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services Accessed July 17, 2011
2. USDA My Plate Accessed July 17, 2011

Colgate-Palmolive names hygienists to Oral Health Advisory Board

Colgate-Palmolive named 10 dental hygienists to its 2011 Oral Health Advisory Board. The board members will work with Colgate to find ways to more effectively reach patients across the United States.

Colgate seeks input from hygienists because they interact frequently with patients and are trusted advisors on oral health, disease prevention, and daily oral care. The board is comprised of ten dental hygienists from a wide range of communities across the United States.

The meeting with the 10 board members was hosted in New York City in August. The Oral Health Advisory Board, established in 2009, is a critical element of Colgate’s Oral Health Advisor program, which offers educational benefits exclusively for dental hygienists. For more information, visit

Dental hygienists on Oral Health Advisory Board pose with Colgate officials during board meeting.

Eight practicing hygienists and two dental hygiene authors/lecturers were selected for the board:
• Susan Bergmann, Union Dale, Pa.
• Emily Boge, Farley, Iowa
• Ann Eshenaur Spolarich, Cave Creek, Ariz.
• JoAnn R. Gurenlian, Haddonfield, N.J.
• Jessica Huffman, Charlotte, N.C.
• Robin Smith, Findley, Ohio
• Stefanie Shanck, Hingham, Mass.
• Victoria Smith, Melbourne Beach, Fla
• Leah Smothers, Hardin, Ky.
• Tawana Watson, Deptford, N.J.

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