You say po-tay-toe. I say po-tah-toe. No matter how it’s pronounced, Harvard nutritionists disagree with the U.S. Department of Agriculture about chowing down on loaded bakers. They have different views on not only potatoes but other foods as well. Both use divided dinner plates to illustrate their views. Lay those plates side by side on the table, and you’ll see.

The U.S.D.A. MyPlate was introduced in 2011 and significantly updated the old food pyramid. It’s easy to understand and simple for busy cooks who want a fast guide to draw up healthy menus. The concept of dividing your plate and filling the sections with food has gained widespread popularity. Organizations such as the American Diabetes Association offer their own interactive versions tailored to specific dietary needs.


But Harvard says MyPlate doesn’t go far enough. Experts at Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School created the Healthy Eating Plate to offer pointers they say fill in some blanks and draw significant distinctions about the healthiest food choices.

Consider the potato. MyPlate does not distinguish between potatoes and other vegetables. But Harvard warns us to hold off on the tuber. The starch in potatoes is rapidly digested and has the same effect on blood sugar as refined grains and sweets.

Red meat and processed meats also come under the Harvard microscope. University nutritionists point out that you could pile hamburgers and hot dogs on the MyPlate protein section, which doesn’t say anything about the harmful effects of processed and red meat.

The Harvard plate notes that regularly eating even small amounts of the two will especially increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, and weight gain.

The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate promotes eating proteins such as fish, poultry, beans or nuts. The Crimson nutritionists, however, do give the U.S.D.A. points for recommending adults eat at least 8 ounces of cooked seafood each week.

On the Cambridge campus, you’ll hear warnings about eating too much of refined grains such as white bread and white rice. These act in the body just like a sugar fix, and they can make controlling weight more difficult. Eating refined grains can increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Listen to the Harvard experts and choose whole grains.

MyPlate initially didn’t advise consumers that whole grains are better for health, say the Harvard nutritionists. USDA added that information as an update to MyPlate to recommend eating at least half of their grains as whole grains.

Why do the two plates differ? Harvard says their plate was not subjected to “political or commercial pressures from food industry lobbyists.” They say theirs is based solely on the best available science. Read more on how the Healthy Eating Plate compares to the USDA’s MyPlate at Healthy Eating Plate vs. USDA’s MyPlate.