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What’s in our plate?


In the last months you might have heard about the new symbol adopted by the US Department of Agriculture, to guide citizens towards appropriate food choices: the food Pyramid, that has been used for several decades, was replaced by the plate, to be more precise by MyPlate (

This new icon suggests in a simplified way the proportion of food to be put on the plate, at each meal: vegetables, fruit, cereals, protein and dairy. It is not easy to simplify without losing important details, and in this case it seems that the simplification has been a bit excessive, although completed by additional text, that is found immediately below the icon or that can be reached by following the ad hoc links.

For readers in a hurry, the image is really a bit scarce and misleading. And in fact after a few months form the appearance of MyPlate, epidemiologists and nutritionists from Harvard University, Boston, MA, have proposed a new Plate, the Healthy Eating Plate (il Piatto del Mangiar Sano) which tried to fill some gaps and to specify some crucial points, according to scientific evidence.

Which are the differences?

In the attached file the two images and the comparison between the two plates can be found. Briefly, these are some of the points for discussion.

One section of MyPlate is dedicated to “cereals”: only further down there is a sentence stating that at least 50% of grains should be “whole grains”. By reading more carefully it can be observed that potatoes are classified together with vegetables. But nowadays, it is commonly agreed,not only in Mediterranean countries, that potatoes should be grouped together with refined cereals, because of  their rapidly absorbed carbohydrates: potatoes have therefore the same bad effect of refined carbohydrates and sweets on our blood sugar.

Attached to the plate there is a circle, representing a glass, stating “dairy”. This is also a bit misleading: does it mean that we should have milk or a dairy product at each meal? There is no evidence encouraging this habit. And nothing is mentioned in relation to sodas and juices, that are far too much consumed today, especially in the US. Maybe a glass of water, as shown in the Heathy Eating Plate, would have been more appropriate to remind of this important element, of vital importance.

Physical activity is not mentioned, nor are the healthy oils.

And when it comes to protein, there are no distinctions. We have known for many years that to prevent chronic disease (cancer, cardiovascular, diabetes) it is appropriate to prefer fish, poultry, legumes, nuts and to leave the consumption of red meats , fresh and processed, just for special occasions.

But, what are we putting in our plate?

It is easy to criticize others, but this comparison can be useful to think about ourselves and check what we eat.

We are in the cradle of the Mediterranean Diet, but our way of eating is getting more and more distant from the tradition.

Are we sure to always remember to have our veggies or does it often happen to completely forget about it, at least at lunch? We have been recommended to eat at least 400-500 g of vegetables and fruit per day: how are we doing? Is our consumotion close to these quantities?

In 2009, the PASSI study in Italy (a survey based on approximately 39,000 subjects, aged 18-69 years) shows that only 9% of the sampled subjects declares to consume at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, and that 48% of the sample (ie. half of the sample) have only 1-2 portions of vegetables and fruit per day. We often just tend to follow the trends of what happens in the US, but it would be good if we could wake up and change our attitudes, before reaching the levels of overweight and obesity currently seen in the USA.

Here you can read the Guidelines for Healthy Eating in Italy

Click here to read the recommendations of the World Cancer Research Fund

At you can find an answer to some of your questions.


Below the comparison between MyPlate and the Healthy Eating Plate can be found

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Every week: news, curiosities and recipes to learn how to eat according to evidence based recommendations.

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The recipe archive provides also the nutritional composition of the dishes.  At the moment there are only a few recipes, just as an example. But I hope to be able to make the recipe book grow, maybe with some of your suggestions.

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News from Harvard: it’s never too late to lose some pounds …


The great obsession of overweight continues tormenting us. It is in fact well known that excess weight increases the risk of a series of so called chronic degenerative diseases, like cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.

You will probably say that you already heard all this, millions of times.

That’s right! But there are some news: an article from the HARVARD ALUMNI STUDY – the prospective study of Harvard University’s students (USA) - was published just a few days ago. The study gathered medical information about students in the period 1916-1950. That is from the period when my grandparents were that age to the period when some parents younger than mine were enrolled at university. The study is based on data on body weight, height and blood pressure, together with other information like smoking status, all measured when these young adults were on average 18 yrs old. Measurements were then repeated around mid-adulthood, at an average age of 46 yrs. Almost 19,000 male ex-students were part of the study, and over 2,000 of them have died of coronary heart disease.

Well:  those that were obese as students, had an almost doubled risk to die of some heart disease,  like a myocardial infarction. Those that were overweight had a 30% higher risk as compared to their friends with a regular weight.

The researchers went further: they wanted to find out if weight at an adult age modified the risk. And in fact they noticed that the risk was totally modified, so that weight at a young age was not anymore a significant risk.

What does it mean?   It means that it is never too late to lose some weight. Some people might think that, once you reach mid-adulthood, what is done is done. But this is not true: also those of us that were overweight as young adults, have still a chance to get in track and get fit again. Their heart will be grateful and will be happy to offer several additional years of active and healthy life.

A drawback of this study? Unfortunately data were collected only for male students, since in that period young girls were not admitted at Harvard, but they studied at the Radcliff College. Therefore, we cannot be certain that the same results apply also to us ladies, but it is very likely, since the mechanisms involved should work in the same way in both genders. And I am quite positive about this.


Body Weight in Early and Mid-Adulthood in Relation to Subsequent Coronary Heart Disease Mortality: 80-Year Follow-up in the Harvard Alumni Study.
Linsay Gray, I-Min Lee, Howard D. Sesso, and G. David Batty
Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(19):1768-1770.

Course Presentation - FOOD INTAKE and HEALTH - October 28, 2011


Stop talking, start acting....

A combined individual and group project, aimed at correcting wrong food habits. For people with weight problems or other health problems connected with nutrition, or for whoever wants to learn the rules of prevention , around the table. The program includes:

  • 4 individual sessions with the dietitian
  • 3 group meetings


October 28, 2011 - at 9:00 pm

The presentation is open to all, but the course is intended for the members of ChiantiMutua


Auditorium Macchiavelli - ChiantiBanca
Piazza Arti e Mestieri, 1
San Casciano in Val di Pesa (FI)
Toll Free Number -  800 26 56 57 

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