Nutrition Articles

Out with the Pyramid, In with the Plate

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

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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 ChooseMyPlate.gov 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 ChooseMyPlate.gov. The USDA does not endorse any products, services, or organizations.

Sources
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. www.eatright.org.

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. www.prnewswire.com.

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

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

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

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

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

Vastag, Brian. "At USDA, a Plate Usurps the Food Pyramid," accessed June 2011. www.washingtonpost.com.
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Member Comments

  • MyPlate is a more user-friendly visual, but its "one-size-fits-al
    l" approach is too simplistic for people with special needs such as diabetes or overweight. Six servings of grain is way too much for me, as a Type 2 diabetic (controlled with diet and exercise), and there is also the fact that when it comes to blood sugar my body sees no difference between whole grain and refined food items. (Although I do understand there are other health reasons to choose whole grain items.) Also, MyPlate makes no distinction between starchy and non-starchy vegetables, and anyone who has ever tried to lose weight or keep their blood glucose in range knows that potatoes and corn are NOT the equivalent of romaine or broccoli -- yet MyPyramid treats them all the same. But as a visual aid, I think that MyPlate is more intuitive than MyPyramid. It's just that as a Type 2 diabetic trying to lose weight, my own personal MyPlate looks a lot different than USDA's. - 11/14/2013 7:52:22 AM
  • GECKOTREEFROG
    A step in the right direction, but a Long way to go. Still too many carbs, & nobody benefits from gluten containing grains. NICOLE: Sorry, but you are wrong about saturated fats/ cholesterol. I know that is what you were taught in school, & it is based on the terribly bad science espoused By Ancel Keys decades ago. Eating oils w/ saturated fats & cholesterol does Not raise Blood levels of cholesterol. So, what does? Eating Too Many Carbs! Oils like coconut oil are Amazing; They contain short and medium chain fats which Raise HDL (good cholesterol) & So many more benefits. Time to read "Perfect Health Diet" by Paul Jaminet Ph.D..., (See Ch 13 in particular). A great book about cholesterol that Anyone can understand is "The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering your Cholesterol won't prevent Heart Disease - and the Statin-Free Plan that will" By Stephen Sinatra M.D., Cardiologist. Another excellent book that addresses The problem of consuming too many grains & tells which fats & oils Are healthy and Why is "Grain Brain" by David Perlmutter, M.D., Neurologist. (We consume Way to many omega 6 oils, which are primarily in vegetable oils. Also, Dr. Perlmutter provides charts to show which oils are safe to cool with & why; for example, olive oil is great, but Only unheated such as w/ salad dressing or at Low heat cooking temps). Nobody should consume margarine! Use grass/ pasture fed butter, or, if you have intolerance w/ lactose, whey or casein in dairy, use grass fed Ghee, available on Amazon by Pure Indian Foods or Ancient Organics. I don't expect people to just take my word on this. I have applied this info to my Husband's scary dense pattern B LDL cholesterol profile, very low HDL, High triglycerides, & type 2 diabetes. What Happened? in 2 mos., he is no longer diabetic, his Triglycerides dropped from 197 to 119, & his LDL is Changing from scary, Dense pattern B to the buoyant "good" pattern A LDL. ALL by Eating Saturated fats like coconut oil, Grass fed butter, grass fed beef..., ditching grains & eating low carb. (Exercise helps too, o... - 11/13/2013 8:52:42 AM
  • It would be really helpful if the Sparkpeople Nutrient Counter included the number of fruit or veggie servings in each food and a total for the day at the bottom. ;-) - 1/8/2013 10:43:43 PM
  • The American plate looks totally different to the British one. Here is ours (the Eatwell Plate): http://www.nhs.uk
    /Livewell/Goo
    dfood/Pages/e
    atwell-plate.aspx - 6/18/2012 12:44:09 PM
  • FIRREWHISPER
    This site has a wide variety of physical activities listed in the data base tracker. I was able to find water walking, slow, medium or fast pace. Thanks. - 6/14/2012 10:31:39 PM
  • WINACHST, protein DOES need to be included on the plate.

    I am very glad to see that half the plate is veggies and fruit (most of mine will be veggies; fruit sometimes disagrees here). Protein is also essential, and not all of us can eat heavy legumes or nuts to get our protein. So, yes, for some of us it will be meat and/or fish and/or eggs. Sorry about the dictates of reality. - 6/14/2012 8:01:03 PM
  • I want a "plate" of my own!!

    I think the plate idea is a good one. - 6/14/2012 5:41:44 PM
  • Unfortunately there is a lot information in this article that is FALSE! If the author would have taken the time to create a profile (like I have done), she would have learned that it DOES tell you how many servings to eat, including fat (or "oils") and empty calories. And it takes YOUR personal lifestyle into consideration (i.e. level of activity, pregnancy, breastfeeding).

    My dietician turned me on to this site when I was pregnant, so I've gotten a lot of time with it. I much prefer SparkPeople's tracker because it has a HUGE database of food, but my plate is terrific at telling me what I should be eating. The move from a pyramid to plate is certainly the right direction! - 5/3/2012 12:39:27 PM
  • I think the plate serves the purpose it was intended to do. A good simple guide, especially when eating out, or in other situations where you are not making the food. I thought the "debate" about calling one section protein was somewhat foolish. To say that people know that protein is contained in all food, so might find that section of the plate confusing??? First of all, I would say there is a fair number of people that don't "know" this, and second, if they are intelligent or educated, enough *to* know this, they are intelligent or educated enough to know what this section represents.

    And with regards to the comment that we shouldn't "dumb down" public education about nutrition. The fact of the matter is many people will not spend the time reading about nutrition, so there does need to be a simplified message. And, remember, half the human population is below the 50th percentile in intelligence. - 2/15/2012 12:51:02 AM
  • where does the excercize come in?

    Alice Schatz - 6/18/2011 11:42:29 PM
  • It would be cool to be able to buy "the plate" to use. - 6/18/2011 4:57:21 PM
  • LIZJUSTLIZ
    Anyone else notice this is almost exactly the same format as Spark People's "Bikini Diet" plan? Lol, greatness! - 6/18/2011 4:11:24 PM
  • I think it's fantastic and really simplifies things! I really hope this helps more understand portions, etc. - 6/18/2011 1:59:55 PM
  • HELLOWORLD11
    I like the plate! I, also as some other mentioned, learned the four food groups (meat, dairy, grains, fruits&veggies) which was simple (thus I remember them 35+ years later) but not necessarily really that healthy. No one 'idea' is going to fit for everyone however I think this is simple enough and visual enough that people can easily remember. I would say that if make easy people will remember maybe use and THEN get interested in more detailed information. - 6/18/2011 12:50:41 PM
  • Love it!

    : )
    Mzzchief - 6/18/2011 11:52:32 AM

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