What Is the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate?

28 March, 2021
This article has been written and endorsed by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez
The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate proposes a distribution of food on your plate that will ensure an adequate supply of essential nutrients for the body.

The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate is a dietary model that seeks to improve eating habits. It has become fashionable recently due to the positive changes that it’s capable of inducing in the body if carried out correctly.

It should be noted that the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate isn’t a diet in itself. It’s a method for organizing and combining food that falls within the guidelines put forward by the flexible diet. It’s sustainable and putting it into practice doesn’t mean restricting yourself or starving.

What is the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate?

As we mentioned, Harvard Healthy Eating Plate is a model that opts for a graphic configuration of the plate of food. This means that it only recommends the food groups that should appear in it and the proportion in which they should appear.

In this way, half the plate in the main meals is taken up with vegetables of any type. A quarter of the plate must contain proteins of high biological value, mainly meat and fish, and the other quarter must contain products with a significant presence of carbohydrates in their composition. The latter must be of a complex type.

Harvard Healthy Eating Plate: the benefits

The main positive point of this ration configuration model has to do with the emphasis placed on the consumption of vegetables. According to a study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, the regular intake of these foods is related to a lower risk of developing complex diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases.

This is due to the micro and phytonutrient content of vegetables. These substances have been shown to be capable of neutralizing the production of free radicals, which generates less systemic inflammation. We must take into account that many chronic diseases have an increase in inflammatory processes.

On the other hand, it should be noted that the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate always ensures the intake of proteins of a high biological value. These are the ones that contain all the essential amino acids, while enjoying a good digestibility value.

However, the protein consumption that it proposes is scarce according to the current evidence. These affirm that, in healthy sedentary people, the protein intake should be increased, as they have determining functions in the health of lean mass.

Although it was previously pointed out that the optimal value was 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight per day, at present the recommendation has been raised to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of daily weight. In this way, a reduction in muscle loss is achieved in the medium term.

Finally, we must emphasize that the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate method is committed to a moderate intake of carbohydrates, these being of a complex type. An excessive contribution of the same can be counterproductive in the non-athlete population. In fact, there is more and more research that shows the positive effects of restrictive diets on carbohydrates.

Various carbohydrates on the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate.
Carbohydrates should be eaten in moderation, as suggested by the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate. This recommendation is more valid for sedentary individuals.

Harvard Healthy Eating Plate: the limitations

Despite the positive points that we have mentioned about the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate, there are also certain details that this model doesn’t take into account. Some of them could be important and decisive.

The first has to do with cooking methods. The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate doesn’t specify how the products are to be cooked, which can lead to doubts and inefficiencies. The best thing is to always cook at mild temperatures in order to avoid toxic substances.

Examples of the latter could be trans fatty acids or acrylamide. The former has been shown to promote inflammation, while the latter increases the risk of developing some types of cancer. For this reason, cooking on the grill, steamed, boiled, or baked in the oven should always be preferred. It’s crucial to avoid fried foods and batters.

On the other hand, the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate doesn’t promote the use of culinary spices. These ingredients have many phytochemicals in their composition, capable of neutralizing the formation of free radicals. Some of them, such as turmeric, are capable of preventing and helping in the treatment of chronic diseases, according to a study published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine.

It only focuses on the main meals

Another limitation of the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate is that it only focuses on main meals. Therefore, mid-morning snacks and afternoon tea are left out. Breakfast is not usually covered with this method either, although it would be possible to adapt it.

Whatever the case, it would be key to follow a similar distribution in the rest of the meals of the day. When planning an intake, the presence of proteins and some vegetables must always be guaranteed. If carbohydrates can also be included, they must be low glycemic.

On the other hand, it should also be noted that the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate method doesn’t offer any recommendations regarding dessert, when this can be a determining factor to complete nutritional needs. As a general rule, the consumption of fruit and a fermented dairy product is recommended after the main meals. These latter foods increase the biodiversity of the microbiota.

Fruit, in turn, is capable of providing a good portion of soluble fiber, in addition to another amount of antioxidant phytonutrients. In this way, its intake should be promoted on a regular basis. However, it should always be consumed for dessert or accompanied by fatty and protein foods to delay gastric emptying.

Avoid ultra-processed food

The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate Method emphasizes the importance of consuming fresh food, thus avoiding the presence of ultra-processed foods. Thus, industrial convenience foods, sweets, and fast food should be avoided. This class of products contains trans fats and additives in their composition.

To properly prepare the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate method, it’s essential to buy fresh food from the supermarket and cook it later. This will ensure that the nutrients provided by the food are of high quality, avoiding the presence of chemicals that may affect the functioning of the body’s systems.

Cans with ultra-processed.
Ultra-processed food contains substances that are harmful to health. That’s why fresh products are preferred for a healthy diet.

Good habits, apart from the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate method

With the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate method, you can configure the main meals in a healthier way. With the additional details that we’ve given you, you’ll be able to choose a suitable dessert and make a proper snack. However, this isn’t all when it comes to health.

Exercise is able to ensure the body’s correct homeostasis. This doesn’t only positively affect the immune function, but also affects the modulation of inflammation and the neutralization of free radicals.

On the other hand, it’s also necessary to focus on sleep quality. During sleep, many of the processes that have a recuperative nature take place. A distortion of schedules and nighttime sleep time influences basic sensations such as appetite.

If you suffer from an inability to fall asleep, then be aware that good nutrition can help you overcome it. You can do this either by eating the right foods at night or by taking melatonin supplements. Otherwise, you’ll just have to use the medication prescribed by a doctor.

The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate is an effective model

Despite its limitations, the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate is a very effective resource to use, both in the nutritional consultation and in daily life. If you make your main meals following this method, then you’ll get a correct supply of nutrients.

Don’t forget either that the best drink to accompany food is always water. It’s very important to avoid the consumption of alcohol and soft drinks, as the latter have high amounts of added sugars. Likewise, alcoholic beverages are capable of affecting cognitive performance and liver function.

If you have any more questions, then we recommend that you go and see a nutrition expert. They will be able to design a menu to suit you, and which can be executed following the rules established by the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate method.

  • Aune D., Giovannucci E., Boffetta P., Fadness LT., et al., Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all cause mortality – a systematic review and dose response meta analysis of prospective studies. Int J Epidemiol, 2017. 46 (3): 1029-1056.
  • Sharma GN., Gupta G., Sharma P., A comprehensive review of free radicals, antioxidants, and their relationship with human aliments. Crit Rev Eukaryot Gene Expr, 2018. 28 (2): 139-154.
  • Kitada M., Ogura Y., Monno I., Koya D., The impact of dietary protein intake on longevity and metabolic health. EBioMedicine, 2019. 43: 632-640.
  • Krejci H., Vyjidak J., Kohutiar M., Low carbohydrate diet in diabetes mellitus treatment. Vnitr Lek, 2018. 64 (7-8): 742-752.
  • Valenzuela CA., Baker EJ., Miles EA., Calder PC., Eighteen carbon trans fatty acids and inflammation in the context of atherosclerosis. Prog Lipid Res, 2019.
  • Perkins K., Sahy W., Beckett RD., Efficacy of curcuma for treatment of osteoarthritis. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med, 2017. 22 (1): 156-165.