NOTES: PLEASE PROOF, NEEDS IMAGE, DO NOT PUSH LIVE UNTIL MYPLATE POLL QUESTION IS LIVE ON REFRESHED SITE
Many of us learned about the four basic food groups as children. That morphed into a pyramid with five food groups – but who eats off of a pyramid? Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to show how to make healthier food choices by serving up nutrition guidelines on a plate.
The USDA launched its MyPlate campaign to make building a better meal easier to understand. It starts with a stronger emphasis on vegetables and fruits, which make up half of the plate. The rest is filled with whole grains and lean proteins, along with a helping of low-fat dairy.
The plate was chosen as the new symbol because of its universal familiarity. Also, many people found the pyramid to be confusing when it came to portion control. The plate is intended to be filled once per meal. Remember to enjoy your food, but avoid oversized portions.
Fruits and Vegetables
The biggest challenge for many people in our meat-and-potatoes culture might be increasing the fruits and veggies. You should have a serving of fruit and/or vegetables with every meal, including breakfast and when snacking. Consider adding diced vegetables to an omelet. Grab an apple or carrots for a snack. Fruit can also be a side dish or dessert.
Variety is also important. Be colorful with fruits and vegetables. Each one has different nutrients, so bringing in an array of colors, from red peppers to purple eggplant, will also bring in a wide range of nutrients.
There’s more to protein that just meat and poultry. Seafood, eggs, soy products, nuts and seeds are also good sources. Make sure to select from a wide variety of protein sources to get the most nutrition.
Always select leaner cuts of meat to avoid excess fat. The same goes for poultry – avoiding the chicken skin will cut empty calories. Aim to include at least eight ounces of cooked seafood a week. Many forms of seafood, such as salmon, mackerel and trout, bring the added benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.
One thing to watch for when selecting meats is sodium. Processed meats may be high in added salt. You can also cut down on sodium by choosing unsalted nuts and seeds.
Whole grains can help lower your risk of some chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Whole grains are also beneficial to your digestive health and are excellent sources of dietary fiber. You should make at least half of your grains “whole grains,” which means the food is made from the entire grain kernel (bran, germ and endosperm).
Refined grains are milled to remove the germ and bran, which creates a finer texture. Unfortunately, this also removes much of the dietary fiber, iron and vitamin B. It’s important to check the ingredients for “whole grain” or “whole wheat.” Sometimes products are made from a mixture of whole and refined grains.
A good source of fiber should contain 10 – 19 percent of the daily value per serving. An excellent source would contain 20 percent or more. Aim to consume 25 – 35 grams of dietary fiber each day.
Examples of whole grains include: brown rice, oatmeal, popcorn, whole wheat breads and pastas.
Examples of refined grains include: white rice, many white breads, pastas, bread products and snacks made with enriched white flour.
Products made from milk (from the milk you buy at the store to cheese and yogurt) are all part of the dairy group. Try to make selections that are fat-free or low-fat. Some people have trouble digesting lactose in milk products, but many lactose-free products are now available.
Oils, which had been represented in some versions of the food pyramid, are not included on MyPlate. However, some oils are beneficial to your overall health. Healthy oils include canola, corn, cottonseed, olive, peanut, safflower, sunflower and vegetable oils. Nuts, avocados, olives and some fish are also naturally high in oils.
The Bean and Pea Dichotomy
Beans and peas are very rich in fiber, potassium and folate, which are common in vegetables. They are also very rich in protein, iron and zinc, which are common in meats and seafood. So where do they belong on the plate? Good news – it’s up to you! Under the MyPlate guidelines, you have some wiggle room on whether to count them as vegetables or protein. So if you’re a fan of kidney beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, split peas and the like, you are in luck.
But, as with anything, there are a few exceptions to the bean and pea dichotomy. Despite their names, green peas and green beans (string beans) are nutritionally more similar to vegetables than proteins. So always count them towards your veggies, and make room for lean proteins when they are part of the plate
Solid fats and added sugars bring empty calories into your diet without much nutritional benefit. Cakes, sodas, pizza, ice cream and breakfast meats can all be pitfalls. While they certainly taste great, they can also wreak havoc on your diet.
Don’t deprive yourself of these foods altogether, but limit them in your diet and increase the healthy options. Go for an unsweetened breakfast cereal or beverages. Pick lean meats instead of fattier cuts.