MyPlate Helps with Healthy Food Choices

As a dietitian, the two questions I am asked most often are “what can I do to lose weight” and “how can I increase my energy level?” The government recently released new nutrition guidelines that can help guide us toward making healthful food choices which can help increase energy level, maintain a healthy weight or promote weight loss which can prevent health problems associated with obesity including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.

On  June 2, 2011, the USDA unveiled MyPlate , the new food guide visual that replaces the food pyramid. MyPlate is helpful guide for planning healthier meals that emphasizes the positive ways we can improve our eating habits. All food groups are shown as equally important on a dinner plate which is more familiar than the pyramid. MyPlate coincides with the latest 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans which describe a simple, easy to understand approach that illustrates a method for portion control and balance with the various food groups.  

Half of your plate should be filled with a colorful variety of fruits and vegetable which are naturally high in fiber, low in calories and contain a variety of nutrients that fight disease and boost overall health. The other half of your plate should contain a portion of whole grains and a portion of protein. A serving of dairy is displayed on the side of the plate which provides a source of calcium and vitamin D.

One food category that is not shown on the new MyPlate diagram is healthy fats. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends avoiding trans-fats (partially hydrogenated oils), limiting saturated fats which include solid fats, such as butter and replacing these fats with healthy fats such as liquid oils, such as olive oil or canola oil, seeds, nuts and avocado. Another source of healthy fats is fatty fish such as salmon, albacore tuna and halibut. The new guidelines recommend increasing seafood consumption to 8oz per week. What an easy way to add a more healthful protein source!

The key recommendations of MyPlate and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines focus on the simple, positive changes we can make such as increasing seafood, fruits and vegetables, exchanging refined grains for whole grains and liquid oils for solid fats, choose lower sodium foods, and drink more water rather than sugary drinks. These are all positive ways to promote good health and lower risk of developing chronic diseases.

Tips for using MyPlate and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines:

  • Use your hand as a guide.  A portion of grains, should be about the size of your fist and 4oz meat/protein the size of your palm.
  • Choose a variety of protein foods such as (seafood, lean beef, lean pork, skinless poultry, eggs, beans and soy). Try having a meatless meal once or twice per week.
  • Choose a colorful array of fruits and vegetables.  Find new ways to increase your enjoyment of delicious fruits and vegetables by checking out the Fruits & Veggies more matters website for recipes and suggestions for getting your kids involved in healthy cooking and shopping.  
  • Emphasize low fat dairy choices such as 1% or skim milk or non-fat or low fat yogurt or low fat cheese. For those who are dairy free, unsweetened almond milk, soy milk and rice milk are all good alternatives as long as they do not contain too much sugar and are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. 
  • Check out the interactive tools on the USDA MyPlate website for specific recommendations regarding portion sizes of each food group based on your age, gender, activity, height, weight and whether you want to lose or maintain your weight.
  • Reduce solid fats, added sugars and refined grains and especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars and/or sodium. These foods include candy, cakes, cookies, pies, sugar sweetened beverages, snack chips and ice cream. These treats should be reserved for special occasions.

For more information:

USDA MyPlate-
Dietary Guidelines for Americans-
Fruits & Veggies more matters-

Holly Gerhard, RD, CD, CDE
Dietitian/Diabetes Educator
Meriter Diabetes Care Team

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