Making Your Way Around MyPlate

If you’re looking for a basic, simple, scientifically-sound approach to healthy eating, look no further than MyPlate, the USDA-produced guide to a nutritious diet based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

MyPlate may not have the celebrity endorsements or the trendy names of more popular eating plans, but it is one that is based on sound nutrition research and input from leading health professionals across government and academia. And if followed consistently, it is a plan that will work well for virtually everyone. In fact, the whole point of MyPlate is that it can be better personalized for individual eating preferences.

So how does it work?

MyPlate is designed to look like a meal plate – something applicable to breakfast, lunch and dinner. One criticism that MyPlate does receive is that it doesn’t fully take into account the snacking or grazing pattern of eating that many people prefer, so if that applies to you, you will have to make some adaptations. The plate is divided to show the proportion of food types or macronutrients that you should consume at each meal. It categorizes foods – dairy, protein sources, fruit, vegetable or grains – to give you a visual guideline on those ideal percentages as well.

The first thing to note by viewing MyPlate is that the total of what you eat in every meal should be one half fruits and vegetables. Actually, if you look closely, the vegetable portion should be bigger and the fruit portion slightly smaller, but most dietitians would be thrilled if a 50/50 split between the two made up half of your meal! Americans consume far too few fruits and vegetables, and this is an important starting point if you want to make real progress towards healthy eating.

Next, check out the other half of the plate – grains and protein. Again, grains are shown as a slightly larger portion size. Grains can be anything rice to potatoes to breads to pastas; not noted on MyPlate, but important to remember, is that at least half of your serving of grains each day should be whole grains. Protein, you’ll soon realize, is the smallest portion of the plate; maybe 20 percent of the total. This includes both animal and plant sources of protein. Up in the right hand corner, where you might put a glass of milk at your place setting, is dairy. This can be milk, and also cheese and yogurt. Pay attention again to the serving size as compared against the rest of your meal.

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