In 2011, the Food Pyramid was replaced with a colorful divided plate that represents all five food groups called MyPlate. MyPlate represents the dietary guidelines and is the symbol used to show how to include all the food groups at a meal and get variety in your diet. The plate is divided into four segments: green for vegetables, red for fruits, orange for grains, purple for protein and blue for dairy which is placed on the side of the plate. Based on the sections, the plate promotes a meal that is ½ of the plate filled with fruits and vegetables, ¼ of the plate filled with whole grains and ¼ of the plate filled with lean protein. The plate takes the focus away from meals that are predominately meat and starch and puts the bigger focus of the meal on plant-based food groups.
One of the best ways to explore MyPlate is to check out their website at MyPlate | U.S. Department of Agriculture. The website is full of great information and tips to get you eating healthier. MyPlate offers several healthy messages and one important concept emphasized is to make simple changes to your eating. Their key message is: “The benefits of healthy eating add up over time, bite by bite. Small changes matter. Start Simple with MyPlate.” When looking at the food plate, one of the things that sticks out is the variety of colors and it is quick reminder to make your plate colorful. For example, if you have a meal of chicken and rice, how can you make it colorful? You can add broccoli and a small apple. Your plate may look like this: ½ of the plate is filled with those colorful foods (the apple and the broccoli) and the other half is filled with whole grain brown rice and lean protein of grilled chicken. By adding the fruit and vegetable to your meal, you added fiber, vitamins and minerals while making your meal healthier.
Let’s take a look at each of the food groups and focus on the key messages of each group.
Fruits: Make half your plate fruits and vegetables and focus on whole fruits.
The fruit group includes all fruits and 100% fruit juice. Fruits may be fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated. Fruits can be eaten whole, cut up, pureed or cooked. At least half of the recommended amount of fruit eaten should come from whole fruit, rather than 100% fruit juice. Most adults need between 1 ½ -2 ½ cups of fruit per day.
What counts as a cup of fruit?
In general, the following counts as 1 cup from the Fruit Group:
- 1 cup of fruit – can be diced or cut up fruit or a whole fruit about the size of a tennis ball
- ½ cup of dried fruit
- 1 cup of 100% fruit juice
Eating fruit has many health benefits. People who eat fruit and vegetables may lower their risk for certain diseases. Fruits provide nutrients such as potassium, fiber and vitamin C to name a few, all of which can help to maintain a healthy body.
Vegetables: Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables and vary your veggies.
What foods are in the Vegetable Group?
Any vegetable or 100% vegetable juice counts as part of the vegetable group. Vegetables may be raw or cooked and can be fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. Vegetables are organized into 5 subgroups based on their nutrients: dark green; red and orange; beans, peas, and lentils; starchy; and other vegetables. Most adults need between 2-4 cups of vegetables per day.
What counts as a cup of vegetables?
The following examples count as 1 cup from the Vegetables Group:
- 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice
- 2 cups of raw leafy salad greens
Vegetables are important sources of many nutrients such as potassium, fiber, folate, Vitamin A and Vitamin C. Diets high in potassium may help maintain blood pressure control, along with other health benefits. Vegetable sources of potassium include sweet potatoes, white beans, tomatoes, spinach and lentils. Vegetables are also a good source of dietary fiber which can help with lowering cholesterol. Eating a variety of colors is beneficial as many of the different colors will represent different vitamins and minerals all of which can make your diet more nutritious. Half of your plate should be these rainbows of colors from fruits and vegetables.
Grains: Make half of your grain’s whole grains
What foods are in the Grains Group?
Foods made from wheat, barley, oats, rice or other cereals are considered grains. Bread, pasta, rice, oatmeal, breakfast cereal and tortillas are all examples of grain products. Grains have two subgroups: whole grains and refined grains. The goal is to make half of your grains whole grains as they are the healthier choice.
Whole grains consist of the entire grain kernel, which includes the bran, germ, and endosperm. Some examples of whole grains are whole wheat flour, bulgar, oatmeal or brown rice. When buying a whole wheat bread, look for the words 100% whole wheat or look for whole wheat as the first ingredient in the ingredient list.
Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life. In this process, the vitamins and fiber are removed from the grain. Examples of refined grains are white bread, white flour, flour tortilla and white rice. The good news is, refined grains should almost always be enriched meaning those vitamins that were stripped in the processing are added back. Enriched products have B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid) and iron added. However, they do not have fiber added back to them so these products are low in fiber. Most adults need between 5-8 oz of grains per day.
What counts as an ounce-equivalent of grains?
The following are some grain food portions that are equal to one ounce:
- 1 slice of bread
- 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal
- ½ cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal
Grains provide many nutrients, along with the fiber in whole grains that are good for heart health Grains also include iron which helps carry oxygen in the blood, B vitamins which are essential for a healthy nervous system and magnesium and selenium which are important for a healthy immune system.
Protein: Vary your protein routine
What foods are in the Protein Group?
Protein Foods include all foods made from seafood, meat, poultry, and eggs; beans, peas, lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products. Beans, peas, and lentils are also part of the Vegetable Group. It is good to eat a variety of protein foods to get more of the nutrients your body needs. Meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat, such as 93% lean ground beef, pork loin, and skinless chicken breasts. Choose seafood options that are higher in healthy fatty acids (called omega-3s) and lower in methylmercury, such as salmon, anchovies, and trout. If you are vegetarian or vegan, protein options include beans, peas, and lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy products.
Most adults need between 5- 7 oz of protein per day. Many Americans get the right amount of protein needed from meat, poultry, and eggs, but do not meet the recommendations for seafood or nuts, seeds, and soy products. Meeting this can help increase the amount of important nutrients your body needs, like unsaturated fats, dietary fiber, and vitamin D.
What counts as an ounce-equivalent in the Protein Foods Group?
The following examples count as 1 ounce-equivalent from the Protein Foods Group:
- 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish
- ¼ cup cooked beans
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
- ½ ounce of nuts or seeds
Dairy: Choose low fat or fat free dairy or yogurt
What foods are included in the Dairy Group?
The dairy group includes milk, yogurt, cheese, lactose-free milk and fortified soy milk and yogurt. Not included in this group are foods made from milk that have little calcium and a high fat content, like cream cheese, sour cream, cream, and butter. About 90% of Americans do not get enough dairy. Eating or drinking dairy products offers health benefits, like building and maintaining strong bones. Dairy group foods provide nutrients that are vital for the health and maintenance of the body. These nutrients include calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and protein. Most adults need 3 cups of milk/milk products per day.
What counts as a cup in the Dairy Group?
In general, the following counts as 1 cup from the Dairy Group:
- 1 cup of milk, yogurt, or soy milk
- 1 ½ ounces of natural cheese
How can you put it all together?
The MyPlate website can help you personalize your MyPlate plan. Use this link to get a MyPlate Plan that is right for you. The plan will show you how many servings you need from each food group.
Your food plan is personalized, based on your:
- Physical activity level
Once you plug in your information, you will be on your way to building a healthy meal plan that includes the appropriate portions from each of the food groups. One thing you can do to evaluate your current diet is to keep a food journal for a few days then look at it to see what areas of your diet need a little improving. Have you eaten the recommended amount of vegetables each day? Are you including whole grains? Once you examine your current habits, you can set goals to help improve your diet. Another great tool that MyPlate has is the, Start Simple with MyPlate app which is available on the Apple app store and Google play. The MyPlate app is a good tool to help you set goals, see real-time progress with your diet and earn badges to help motivate you and reward your successes.