Food groups, nutrient recommendations, calorie control…they all come together here with the new tool to plan a healthy diet. Meet MyPlate!
Remember the food pyramid? A visual representation of what kinds of foods and how much we should be eating every day, the pyramid was a busy and hard-to-memorize tool. In 2005, the pyramid was updated to include exercise, but was still – and arguably even more – confusing to read and understand.
In 2011, MyPlate was rolled out. A completely new diagram that represented a plate, it demonstrates what your meal should look like on your plate. While visually pleasing and easy to read, it doesn’t show much information, like number of servings per day. Still, it’s an easy guide to follow, and to find more information on the recommendations, you can visit ChooseMyPlate.gov.
Or, just keep reading here, and I’ll summarize it all in one page for you! 😀
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a government organization that creates and enforces food and nutrition regulations (and farming and stuff, too!). They’re responsible for creating the dietary guidelines – recommendations on how much of a certain nutrient we should be consuming each day to meet our needs. They translated these regulations from an ugly, boring chart into MyPlate, with some supplemental information so you have all the knowledge but not all the boring chart-reading. From here on out, when I say “MyPlate”, I’m referring to both the visual representation as well as the dietary guidelines as a whole.
(Incidentally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in charge of regulating nutrition facts labels and much of the safety of the food. The two work together and sometimes even overlap a bit. It can get really confusing…so let’s not worry about it.)
You’ve probably heard of the five food groups before. You’ve got fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy. These groups encompass foods that are similar to one another based on the nutrients they contain and their origins.
MyPlate is designed so that you’ll eat the proper amounts of each food group, which will provide you with the proper amounts of each nutrient in the proper proportion. (Try saying that five times fast!) It also helps with calorie control! You know how people always talk about “portion control”? MyPlate helps to visualize what a good portion might be, without having to read nutrition facts labels and measure all your food.
Let me just say, reading nutrition facts labels and measuring your ingredients is extremely beneficial. But not everyone is going to be into that level of preciseness, or maybe they think they don’t have enough time. It’s a lot to learn all at once! MyPlate is a great introductory course for people learning to plan their diets. It’s also just a great reference tool for those of us who do count calories or weigh our food! Hey, it even helps when creating recipes! So, whether you’re just starting out and totally overwhelmed, or if you plan on learning all of these great tools to manage your diet, MyPlate is a pretty solid place to start!
That being said, let’s take a look at the food groups!
If we want to get technical, a fruit is a structure that develops from a plant. This structure contains seeds. Botanists and chefs tend to disagree over a few fruits, especially tomatoes. Which is it? Well, it contains seeds, so it’s botanically a fruit. However, chefs are more concerned with flavor and nutrition, and so the tomato – more savory than sweet – is considered a vegetable.
MyPlate recommends 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruits per day for adults. One cup can consist of 8 oz of fruit juice, one cup of whole fruit, or ½ a cup of dried fruit (due to high sugar concentration!) To see recommendations for kids and an example of how much counts as one serving, click here.
The major nutrients provided by fruits include carbohydrates (as sugar), fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, potassium, and folate.
Examples of foods in the fruit food group (another tongue twister) include apples, bananas, melons, citrus fruits, grapes, pineapple, strawberry, and peaches. You can eat these fresh, frozen, canned, chopped, sliced, diced, pureed, you name it!
Focus on Food – Apples
We know that fruits contain seeds and develop from a plant, but how to vegetables differ? A vegetable doesn’t grow from a plant – it is a plant! Veggies are the structural part of plants – roots, stems, and leaves.
MyPlate recommends 2 – 3 cups of vegetables per day for adults. One cup can consist of 8 oz vegetable juice, 1 cup of veggies, or 2 cups of leafy greens. Yes, you read that right. Two cups equals one cup! To see recommendations for kids and an example of how much counts as one serving, click here.
MyPlate takes vegetables one step further and divides them into subcategories based on color or amount of starch. This is because each color offers a different, beneficial phytochemical – plant chemical. When they say to “Eat the Rainbow!”, that’s why! These subgroups include dark green vegetables, red and orange vegetables, starchy vegetables, beans and peas, and others.
The major nutrients provided by vegetables include fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, and folate.
Examples of foods in the vegetable food group include broccoli, cabbage, spinach (dark green), carrots, peppers, tomatoes (red and orange), potatoes, corn (starchy), peas, beans (…beans and peas), onions, mushrooms, summer squash, and cucumbers (other)! We’re talking a full rainbow of food here! Just like fruits, you can eat veggies fresh, frozen, canned, raw, cooked, sliced and diced, etc.
There are two subcategories in this group – whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains consist of the entire grain kernel, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. Refined grains remove the bran and germ – and the nutrients that go with them – leaving behind just the starchy endosperm.
MyPlate recommends 5 – 8 oz equivalents of grains each day, half of which should be whole grains. (Ideally, all of these would be whole grains.) What the heck is an ounce equivalent? One slice of bread or a half a cup of cooked rice, pasta, or cereal all count as an ounce equivalent. Looking at it that way, it’s more like 2.5-4 cups of grains, with a slice of bread counting as a cup. To see recommendations for kids and an example of how much counts as one serving, click here.
The major nutrients provided by grains include carbohydrates, fiber, iron, magnesium, and B vitamins.
Examples of foods in the grains food group include whole grains such as quinoa, oats, popcorn, brown rice, and whole-wheat breads and pastas. Refined grains would include white rice, white flour (look for “enriched wheat flour” on labels!), and white breads and pastas.
Perhaps the biggest variety of foods, the protein food group contains foods that have…um, yes. Protein. And lots of it! It’s more than just meats and poultry, though, as maybe your mind is like mine and immediately connects protein to meat! Examples of protein foods include meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, nuts and seeds, and soy products.
Did you catch that beans and peas are in both the vegetable group and the protein group? They swing both ways! You can count them as a protein if you don’t consume a lot of (or any) meat, or you can count them as a veggie!
MyPlate recommends 5 ½ – 6 ½ oz equivalents per day. There’s that ounce equivalents again. For some measurements, this is easy – a 4 ounce piece of boneless, skinless chicken breast is 4 ounce equivalents. But what about everything else? Well, ¼ cup of cooked beans, ½ oz of nuts or seeds, 1 tablespoon of nut butter, and 1 egg all count is an ounce equivalent. Yeah…1/2 oz = 1 oz when it comes to nuts and seeds. I know that’s weird. To see recommendations for kids and an example of how much counts as one serving, click here.
The major nutrients provided by protein foods are omega-3 and -6 fatty acids (seafood), B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium, and – you guessed it – protein!
Focus on Food – Chicken
Focus on Food – Eggs
Milk and milk products are included in this category. MyPlate recommends choosing low-fat options or even fat-free options. Many people can’t consume dairy because of lactose intolerance or even allergies. Some people even choose not to consume dairy for ethical reasons. There’s quite a bit of controversy around dairy products these days!
MyPlate recommends 3 cups of dairy per day. One cup equivalent is 8 oz milk or yogurt or 1 ½ oz cheese. To see recommendations for kids and an example of how much counts as one serving, click here.
The major nutrients in the dairy group include calcium, Vitamin D, potassium, and protein.
Examples of foods from the dairy group include cow’s milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, and soymilk.
My opinion on the dairy dilemma
Everyone has a different opinion on dairy products. I’ll share mine. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!
There’s no denying that cow’s milk is chock full of nutrients. It’s meant to feed a baby cow and help it grow, plus the milk industry fortifies it with extra Vitamin A and D. It’s the best source of calcium out there. It’s a great choice to get a lot of nutrients at once. Just be careful with consuming excess liquid calories!
Low-fat and fat-free diets, saturated fat, and cholesterol are all given a bad rap because of the industry’s history…but new research is coming out and saying that it’s not the evil that we thought it was. Go figure. While I consume some low-fat options to save a few calories here and there, I’m not afraid of saturated fat and cholesterol. I love me some 2% milk, and bring on the sour cream! And I personally couldn’t live without cheese! Everything in moderation, folks.
If you choose not to consume cow’s milk for other reasons (or can’t because of an intolerance or allergy), there are other ways to get the nutrients that milk provides. These are just the guidelines set forth by the USDA. Of course, they are heavily influenced by the very profitable dairy industry. Everything always comes down to money. But it’s my duty to inform you guys of what the US recommends, as well as how everything isn’t set in stone. Nutrition is highly personal, and you can modify it any way you need or want to!
While oils are not depicted in the MyPlate diagram, they are present on the website. While not a food group, oils are an important part of diet planning because they’re so full of great nutrients! Just know that they are very high in calories because they are pure fat, so it’s especially important to use moderation with oils.
MyPlate recommends 2 tablespoons (6 teaspoons) of oils per day. To see recommendations for kids and an example of how much counts as one serving, click here.
The nutrients that oils contain include Vitamin E and mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
Examples of foods that are included in this group go beyond just oils like olive oil, canola oil, sesame oil, walnut oil, or coconut oil. Oily foods include nuts, olives, fish, and avocado.
That’s a lot of information for such a simple diagram! But the diagram works great for visualizing how much of each food group you should have. If you’re not going to measure out cups and ounce equivalents and bother with all of that, MyPlate is a good guide to follow. You certainly won’t be very accurate, but it’ll be better to have the majority of your plate as vegetables instead of grains! You’ll even get a good variety of nutrients, and that’s the most important part.
You can track your own intakes and find your personalized recommendations using the MyPlate Supertracker. Everyone has slightly different needs based on age, sex, physical activity, and a few other things. But the Supertracker can help you get a better idea of what is right for you, and it’s another great place to start diet planning!
If you’ve made it this far – THANK YOU for reading that very long, very informative post. I know it’s a lot to take in. You’ve just proven something to me, though, and to yourself. You’re pretty serious about focusing on your health and nutrition, and interested in how it all works. Honestly, that’s a super important step. Starting. Learning. Do yourself a favor, and keep at it. You will never regret investing in your own health! Let MyPlate serve as a guide for you, but find your own preferences along the way. I challenge you to utilize the diagram when you build your next meal!