What Is MyPlate & How Is It Used?

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Developed and maintained by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy & Promotion, MyPlate replaced MyPyramid in 2011 as the updated and research-based illustrative guide to help the public make healthy food choices. MyPlate is an image of a plate divided into four parts and a side glass, with specific food groups recommended to occupy each segment. Fruits and vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy are represented and recommended.

Make Half Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables

A key message of MyPlate is to eat more fruits and vegetables. When building a healthy plate, choose a variety of fruits and vegetables. For example, include dark green vegetables, colorful vegetables such as peppers and carrots, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes or squash, beans and peas, berries, citrus fruits, melons, apples and bananas. Give your breakfast a fresh twist by adding vegetables. Drink a cup of 100 percent vegetable juice or add onions, green peppers and spinach to an egg scramble or omelet. Try blending spinach, shredded carrots, chopped apples, a banana and a little yogurt with water and ice. Throughout the day, include fruits and veggies with your snacks, lunch and dinner.

Make One-Fourth of Your Plate Grains

Grains include wheat, rice, corn, oats, rye, barley and teff, among others, and grain products such as oatmeal, bread, tortillas and breakfast cereals. There are two types of grain products: whole and refined. Whole grains such as brown rice and whole wheat bread contain the entire grain kernel: the bran, germ and endosperm. Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ, leaving only the starchy endosperm. This process also takes out many B vitamins as well as dietary fiber and iron. Examples of refined grain products include pretzels, white bread, white flour tortillas, pasta and pastries. Refined grain products typically contain larger amounts of sugar and fat. MyPlate recommends making half of the grains you eat whole grains.

Make One-Fourth of Your Plate Protein

MyPlate recommends a variety of protein foods to improve nutrient intake and health. Protein foods include eggs, meats, poultry, seafood, beans and peas as well as nuts and seeds. Choose lean or lowfat meat and poultry cuts. For vegetarians, beans, peas and legumes are protein-rich foods. According to MyPlate, the recommended daily intake of protein foods for adults is between 5 and 7 ounce equivalents of protein. Daily recommendations vary according to your activity level and are less for small children. In general, 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish, a quarter cup of cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of nut butter or a half ounce of nuts or seeds is a 1-ounce equivalent from the protein foods group.

Vary Your Dairy

Fluid milk and products made from milk are the dairy group of MyPlate. For example, milk, yogurt, cheese and calcium-fortified soy milk fall into the dairy group. Foods that contain little or no calcium -- such as cream cheese, butter and cream -- aren't included. Recommended daily amounts vary according to age, which is why dairy is a side glass. Choose yogurt for a calcium-rich snack and gut-healthy probiotic bonus. Lactose intolerance may prevent some from consuming foods from the dairy group. In this case, dairy-free sources of calcium include broccoli, almonds, kale and salmon. MyPlate suggests consumers choose fat-free or lowfat milk products; otherwise, the fat in dairy products increases empty calories beyond recommended levels. Empty calories mean excessive calories from solid fats or added sugars; foods with empty calories typically contain very few nutrients, and you should limit them in order to meet your calorie and nutrient needs.

Choose Healthy Oils

Although there's no section on the MyPlate graphic for fats and oils, these foods are still addressed. Dietary fats are found inside various foods, including meat, fish, dairy, nuts and avocados, but also include cooking fats such as oils and butter. MyPlate guidelines ask you to cut back on saturated fats found in animal foods as well as trans fats, found in stick margarine, processed snack foods and some baked goods and fried foods. Instead, opt for oils -- such as olive or safflower -- which contain healthy unsaturated fats. Between fats found naturally in foods and oils added to cooking, adults are allotted between 5 and 7 teaspoons of fats per day.

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