Nutrition Articles

Out with the Pyramid, In with the Plate

What You Need to Know about USDA's ''MyPlate''


Dissecting the Plate
Here's a rundown of the basic messages that go along with the Plate, and how SparkPeople's food philosophy fits into them.

The plate features five food groupings, each represented by their own color. The largest area is vegetables, followed by grains. Dairy is offset to the side of the plate, but if you choose not to eat or drink dairy products, the website also lists calcium-fortified soy milk to be nutritionally equivalent in place of milk.

In addition to the Plate graphic itself, the new icon is accompanied by the following nutritional guidelines that offer more information for healthy eating.
  • "Enjoy your food, but eat less."
    Amen! SparkPeople believes that eating healthy should be enjoyable, so it's nice to see this point emphasized. Yes, most Americans could stand to eat less, and if you fill this plate just once per meal, you'll probably be on your way to balancing your calorie intake. Hand estimates that if you filled your 9-inch plate following the format, and used lower fat foods and cooking techniques, you would consume about 500-600 calories for the meal.
  • "Avoid oversized portions."
    This is no small feat when so many people dine out or rely on convenience foods these days. Although the Plate doesn't talk much about portion sizes, SparkPeople recommends basic portion control, and tactics like measuring and weighing foods for accurate nutrition intake. This is especially important for weight control.
  • "Make half your plate fruits and vegetables."
    This is an important point. Not only are fruits and vegetables bursting with good-for-you nutrients, but they are also low in calories and high in filling power, which means they can help with weight management. Need more tips to reach this goal? Start here.
  • "Make at least half your grains whole grains."
    SparkPeople has always emphasized the importance of whole grains—and the fact that we need more. Whole grains are more nutritious and filling, and also pack fiber, which has a multitude of health benefits. However, many food manufacturers will try to trick you into thinking their product contains whole grains when it actually has little to none. Reading labels is key! Here's how to ensure the grains you eat are whole—and not masquerading as healthy.
  • "Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk."
    If you are a milk drinker (or a cheese or yogurt connoisseur), consider switching to fat-free or low-fat dairy. The reason? Most people don't need the extra saturated fat and calories that come from higher-fat versions of dairy, and the low fat stuff has just as much protein, calcium and other nutrients, so it makes sense to switch. Try weaning yourself slowly down to skim rather than making the jump all at once.
  • "Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals—and choose the foods with lower numbers."
    Most Americans consume dangerously high levels of sodium, but soups, breads and frozen meals are hardly the only culprits. Be on the lookout for other snack foods and processed foods—as well as restaurant dishes, which are all notoriously high in sodium.
  • "Drink water instead of sugary drinks."
    If you've been a SparkPeople member for a long time, then you know how much we love water. We stand by our 8-cups-a-day recommendation, and always have. Here's why. Water is truly the only beverage your body needs, and by replacing other high-cal drinks with H20, you'll save tons of calories, sugar, and even fat from your daily diet.

Don’t worry if your favorite meals don’t fit exactly onto the new Plate. Many of the dishes we eat are combinations foods such as soups, stews, casseroles, pizza, stir fries, and burritos. "These foods will require a little dissection," states Hand. While it can be hard to determine the exact portion size of each food group within a meal like a casserole or burrito (as it related to the Plate), simply do your best. The USDA doesn't currently offer guidelines to help Americans dissect their combination meals, but we expect more tips to come in this area very soon.

"Now it is your turn to start planning," suggests Hand. "Is half your plate filled with fruits and veggies? Are you getting at least three servings of whole-grain foods daily? Take a peek in your pantry. Are there foods from every food group available for meal planning? If not, then get out paper and a pencil and start creating a grocery list."

Going out for dinner tonight? Can you put together a meal that includes all the foods in the right amounts from the restaurant menu? Get your children involved in the meal planning adventure, and don’t be surprised when you hear, "Hey, the vegetables are missing from my plate.” Now that will be music to your ears!

Food pyramid and Plate images courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and The USDA does not endorse any products, services, or organizations.

American Dietetic Association. "New MyPlate Is a Useful Tool for Consumers to Follow Dietary Guidelines and Eat Healthfully, Says American Dietetic Association," accessed June 2011.

American Heart Association. "American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown Says New USDA Food Icon Is A Positive Step Towards Improving Consumer Health," accessed June 2011.

Hellmich, Nanci. "USDA Serves Nutrition Guidelines on 'My Plate'," accessed June 2011.

The Journal of the American Medical Association. "New Nutritional Icon Steps Up to the Plate," accessed June 2011.

Khan, Amina . "USDA to Reshape How We See Dietary Nutrition," accessed June 2011.

Neuman, William. "Nutrition Plate Unveiled, Replacing Food Pyramid," accessed June 2011.

United States Department of Agriculture. "USDA's MyPlate," accessed June 2011.

Vastag, Brian. "At USDA, a Plate Usurps the Food Pyramid," accessed June 2011.

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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.

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