What is My Plate?

Fitness Expert
My Plate is the USDA's (United States Department of Agriculture's) replacement for the previous food pyramid as the official icon representing the dietary guidelines for Americans.  The new plate-shaped icon is split into four colorful sections: green for vegetables, red for fruits, purple for proteins, and orange for grains.  There is a separate blue section shaped like a drinking glass for dairy foods. The emphasis of this method is that half of your plate at each meal should consist of fruits and vegetables.  One quarter of your plate should be a protein food and one quarter of your plate should be a grain, with a serving of dairy (such as a serving of milk) on the side.  

The ChooseMyPlate.gov site describes what each food group should include:


Included in this category is any vegetable or 100% vegetable juice.  Vegetables can be raw, cooked, frozen, fresh, canned, dried, or dehydrated, and may be whole or cut-up, or mashed.  Vegetables are broken up into 5 sub-categories depending on the nutrients that they contain: dark green vegetables, starchy vegetables, red & orange vegetables, beans and peas, and other.  It is strongly encouraged to eat a vegetables from a variety of categories each day. 


Included in this category is any fruit or 100% fruit juice.  Fruits can be fresh, frozen, dried, dehydrated, or canned and can be whole, cut-up, or blended.  The preference is that, most often, whole fruits are eaten rather than drinking fruit juice. 


Foods that are considered part of the protein category include those made from meat, poultry, seafood, peas, eggs, processed soy products, seeds, and nuts.  Note that beans and peas are also part of the vegetable group.  The USDA encourages people to eat a variety of protein foods over the course of a week.  


Grains include food made from wheat rice, cornmeal, oats, barley, and any other cereal grain, Grains are split into two subgroups: whole grains and refined grains.  Whole grains include the entire grain kernel - the bran, germ, and endosperm.  Refined grains have been put through processes that remove the bran and the germ.  Refining processes may increase the shelf-life, but they remove important nutrients such as iron, dietary fiber, and some B vitamins.  It is strongly encouraged that people make at least half of their grain choices each day whole grain.  


Any fluid milk products as well as many products made from milk are part of this category, as well as calcium-fortified soymilk.  Most of a person's dairy choices each day should be fat-free or low-fat.  Note that not all products made from milk retain all of their valuable nutrients - for example cream, butter, and cream cheese and as a result are not part of the dairy group.  


This category is not shown on the MyPlate icon, but is nonetheless, a very important aspect of one's diet that should not be overlooked.  Oils are defined as fats that are liquid at room temperature.  In a person's daily diet, some oils are added to food (e.g. canola oil, corn oil, olive oil, soybean oil, etc.) and some oils are contained within foods (e.g. nuts, olives, fish,  avocados, etc.).  Depending on your age and gender, you typically need between 3 and 7 teaspoons of oils per day (see this chart for more detail: Oils Allowance).

While there is still some room for improvement, the MyPlate icon is a huge improvement over the previous food pyramid, which was often cofusing and overwhelming.  For more information, visit the ChooseMyPlate website www.choosemyplate.gov.