News | Published December 12, 2011 | Written by FoodWise by Michele Rager, Registered Dietitian

FoodWise - A Beginner’s Guide to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate: Part II—Let the Plate be Your Guide!

Figure 3: MyPlate, USDA

Most Americans are familiar with the Food Guide Pyramid (see Figure 1), and perhaps with its more recent replacement MyPyramid (see Figure 2). But there has been a new set of guidelines released called MyPlate to help direct our food choices. (That's right - the pyramid is out, and the plate is in.) The latest guidelines allow you to visualize healthy eating in terms of the types and amounts of food on your plate.

As you can see from Figure 3, MyPlate features five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy in different proportions. Each of the food groups include one key point that you should remember when choosing the foods to eat:

Grains Group - Make at least half your grains whole
At least half of the number of servings you consume should be whole grain foods, which you can get from the food itself (like popcorn) or from an ingredient in the food (such as flour used in bread). Other whole grain foods include brown rice, wild rice, sprouted grains and oatmeal. To help you consume more whole grains, make sure it is the first item included in the ingredient list.

Fruit and Vegetable Groups - Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
All fruits, veggies and their respective juices are fair game; however, it's typically best to choose fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables more often than the canned or juiced variety. Consume many fruits and veggies in an array of colors that contain different vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals to benefit your health.

Dairy Group - Switch to skim or 1% milk.
The goal is to choose foods and beverages lower in fat and with fewer amounts of added sugar. Skim milk, for example, has all the essential nutrients of whole or 2% milk without the extra fat and calories. It's important to know that "foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream and butter, are not considered part of the dairy group." If cow's milk (or goat's milk or sheep's milk for that matter) doesn't happen to be your thing -- no worries! Calcium-fortified soymilk is considered part of the dairy group.

Protein Foods Group - Vary your protein food choices.
Keep meat and poultry portions small and lean such as 90 percent lean ground beef or boneless, skinless chicken breast; 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) and MyPlate focus on choosing fish and beans more often. Fish that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon or trout, for example) should be consumed twice per week. Try incorporating beans into your meals in chili or as part of a veggie burger.

So next time you're sitting down for a meal, let the plate be your guide! Take at least one key message to heart; give it a try. Let it be the first step on a journey to creating a healthier you. For more information on MyPlate, visit