To simplify healthy eating, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designed the MyPlate graphic based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. The icon shows a plate divided into sections: Half is filled with fresh produce, and the remaining two quarters with whole grains and protein. A cup at the top of the plate represents dairy products such as milk or yogurt. In one simple image, the MyPlate graphic shows all five food groups described by the guidelines: grains, protein, fruits, vegetables and dairy. Although not considered a food group, oils are also part of a healthy diet.
Fresh, frozen, pureed and dried fruits are all part of the fruit group. You can even drink your fruit in the form of 100 percent juice, though the USDA recommends getting most of your intake from whole fruit. Fruit provides your body with essential nutrients including vitamins A and C, potassium and healthy carbohydrates for energy. Adults need 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruits per day. Half a cup of dried fruit, a small fruit or 1 cup of diced fresh fruit, drained canned fruit or 100 percent fruit juice count as a serving.
Variety of Vegetables
Vegetables such as spinach and carrots are packed with nutrients including folate, iron and magnesium. The USDA divided the vegetable food group into five categories: dark green vegetables, beans and peas, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, and other vegetables. Adults need 2 1/2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day. As a general rule, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice or 2 cups of leafy greens count as a serving.
At Least Half Whole-Grain
Grains are divided into to two categories based on their processing. Whole-grain foods are made with the entire grain kernel, while refined grains have parts of the kernel -- the bran and germ -- removed. Refined grains are missing nutrients including fiber, iron and some vitamins. For good health, the USDA recommends making at least half of your grains whole grains such as steel-cut oats, brown rice and whole-wheat bread. Adults need a minimum of 3 to 4 ounce equivalents of whole grains per day. Ideally, all grains should be whole grains. An ounce is roughly equivalent to a cup of cereal, a slice of bread or 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta or cereal.
Milk and More
Milk, some dairy and some dairy alternatives such as calcium-fortified soy milk are all included in the dairy group. Foods in this group are rich in calcium, which promotes healthy bones and teeth. Cream cheese, butter and cream are not included in the dairy group because they contain little calcium and are high in fat. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Adults need 3 cups of dairy per day. One cup of milk, yogurt or soy milk count as a serving. One and a half ounces of natural cheese and 2 ounces of processed cheese also count as a cup.
Protein-rich foods give you the feeling of fullness and satisfaction. Your body needs protein to repair damaged tissues and build new tissues. Protein comes from a variety of foods including beans, legumes, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, soy products, nuts and seeds. The USDA recommends that adults eat at least one serving of fish per week. Adults need 5 to 6 1/2 ounce equivalents of protein per day. A serving is 1 ounce of meat, poultry or seafood; one egg; 1 tablespoon of nut butter; 1/4 cups of cooked beans; or 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds. Some protein foods such as ground beef can be high in unhealthy saturated fats. Fish and nuts, on the other hand, are a good source of heart-healthy unsaturated fats. Limit your consumption of saturated fats, but don't eliminate all fat from your diet.