What should fill my plate—protein, veggies or carbs?

Author: Jocie Antonelli

Myplate Blue

The quick answer to the question is, “yes.” The truth is, we need all three every single day, and ideally at every single meal. Protein and carbs are more than a food group, they are actually macronutrients. Protein makes up a part of every cell in your body. It is a major part of the skin, muscles, organs, and glands. We need protein in our diets to help repair body cells, and make new ones. The primary function of carbohydrates in our diets is to provide energy for the body, especially the brain and the nervous system. While vegetables themselves aren’t a macronutrient, they do contain a little of each, (i.e. roughly 3 grams of protein and 5 grams of carbs per half cup).  

So what makes vegetables stand out compared to protein and carbs? Vegetables are a huge provider of micronutrition to our diets, (i.e. vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, phytonutrients, etc). Another thing that makes vegetables stand out is the teeny-tiny amount of calories they contribute to our diets. A serving of vegetables only has 25 calories. That’s why dietitians call them a “freebie,” meaning the calories are so low, we don’t even need to count them! Not too fast though—there is a category of vegetables called starchy vegetables, (i.e. potatoes, peas and corn). These vegetables have the carbohydrate equivalent of a slice of bread with roughly 80 calories.  

So from my point of view, vegetables are the most important food group of any of them (bread/cereals, dairy, fruit, meats and fats). Science would seem to back me up as well. Back in 2011 the USDA launched My Plate, a visual icon to replace the more complicated Food Guide Pyramid. What jumps out about My Plate is that health experts are recommending that half of what we eat at each meal be composed of fruits and vegetables. So instead of counting how many servings we are having from the various six food groups, an easier approach is just to make sure half of our plate is full of fruits and vegetables. This way we can be assured that we are getting the nutrition we need, while keeping our calorie-intake on the lower side.

While proteins and carbs have their place in our diets, the priority needs to be vegetables. Final Answer: Fill your plate with vegetables, and you can’t go wrong.