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Safety and Wellness

Food Guide Pyramid Becomes a Plate

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Plate = New Symbol for Healthy Eating

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Goodbye, pyramid. Hello, plate.

The Food Guide Pyramid was the model for healthy eating in the United States. Maybe you had to memorize its rainbow stripes in school.

But the USDA, the agency in charge of nutrition, has switched to a new symbol: a colorful plate —called MyPlate — with some of the same messages:

  • Eat a variety of foods.
  • Eat less of some foods and more of others.

The pyramid had six vertical stripes to represent the five food groups plus oils. The plate features four sections (vegetables, fruits, grains, and protein) plus a side order of dairy in blue.

The big message is that fruits and vegetables take up half the plate, with the vegetable portion being a little bigger than the fruit section.

And just like the pyramid where stripes were different widths, the plate has been divided so that the grain section is bigger than the protein section. Why? Because nutrition experts recommend you eat more vegetables than fruit and more grains than protein foods.

The divided plate also aims to discourage super-big portions, which can cause weight gain.

What's a Grain Again?

You know what fruits and vegetables are, but here's a reminder about what's included in the three other food groups: protein, grains, and dairy:

  • Protein: Beef; poultry; fish; eggs; nuts and seeds; and beans and peas like black beans, split peas, lentils, and even tofu and veggie burgers. Protein builds up, maintains, and replaces the tissues in your body.
  • Grains: Bread, cereal, rice, tortillas, and pasta. Whole-grain products such as whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, and brown rice are recommended because they have more fiber and help you feel full.
  • Dairy: Milk, yogurt, cheese, and fortified soy milk. With MyPlate, the dairy circle could be a cup of milk, but you also can get your dairy servings from yogurt or cheese. Choose low-fat or nonfat dairy most of the time.

First Lady Likes the Plate

First Lady Michelle Obama introduced the plate and said she will use it with her family, which includes the Obamas' two daughters, Sasha and Malia. Mrs. Obama, who started the Let's Move campaign to help kids get healthier, said the pyramid just wasn't easy enough for parents and kids to follow. The plate is simple and useful.

"I can't help but look at my own plate a little differently," she said. "We're implementing this in our household."

The plate can be used for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That may make you wonder: Do I really have to eat vegetables with breakfast? The answer is no, but aim to eat a variety of food groups at each meal. And if your breakfast doesn't include a veggie, consider a vegetable at snack time. (Yes, healthy, portion-controlled snacks are still OK.)

The plate also shows how to balance your food groups. There's a reason the protein section is smaller: You don't need as much from that group. Eating more fruits and vegetables will help you eat fewer calories overall, which helps you keep a healthy weight. Eating fruits and veggies also gives you lots of vitamins and minerals.

Expect to hear more about the MyPlate. The USDA promises new online tools to help people learn how to apply it to their everyday lives at ChooseMyPlate.gov. [Please note: By clicking on this link, you will be leaving our site.]

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: June 2011

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995–2014 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.

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