Think about your dinner plate for a moment. Is it covered with meat and potatoes and little else? Do your vegetables make up the smallest spot on your plate? Do you often eat more than you should?
Your weight depends partially on your plate. Many factors may affect your weight. These include your physical activity level, genetics, your emotions and attitudes and your income, among others.
But your eating habits are also an important factor. Most of us haven't gotten this message. More than two-thirds of Americans 20 years and older are overweight or obese. This puts most adults at risk for weight-related diseases. They can include:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Certain cancers
Understanding what makes up a healthy diet may help you maintain a healthy weight. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has provided Americans with healthy diet guidelines since 1916. Over the past 20 years, the USDA's food pyramid was a familiar guide. Today, much has changed in American tastes, mobility, food availability and patterns of family life. What will help us remember what to eat and how much to eat? One answer: a program from the USDA called MyPlate, which in 2011 replaced the Food Guide Pyramid.
A simple approach
MyPlate helps you make healthier food choices. It uses a place setting, a familiar mealtime visual. It prompts you to think about building a healthy plate.
The place setting includes a plate divided into four parts. These represent different food groups. They are fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins. It also includes a circle to the side, representing dairy.
Here are some of the key messages:
- Make half of your plate fruits and veggies.
- Make at least half your grains whole grains.
- Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk.
- Compare the sodium in your foods, choosing foods with less sodium.
Spotlight on making better choices
MyPlate emphasizes positive lifestyle choices and recommends you:
- Decrease portion sizes. Use a smaller plate, glass or bowl. One cup of food on a small plate looks larger than on a big plate.
- Focus on foods you need. Eat your fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and fat-free or low-fat dairy.
- When eating out, make better choices. Ask for dressings, syrups and sauces on the side. Skip foods listed on the menu as creamy, buttered, battered, breaded, fried or sautéed.
- Cook at home more often. If you don't already, start out cooking once a week at home. Then build up to cooking at home more often.
- Eat fewer empty calorie foods. This includes solid fats and foods and beverages with added sugar. These add calories but little or no nutrients.
- Increase physical activity. For healthy adults, this means at least two days of strength training and at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. You may break your aerobic activity up into chunks of at least 10 minutes.
- Decrease screen time. Choose other options instead of watching TV. Take a walk, play with your dog, or garden.
The USDA runs a free website with more information about the recommendations at ChooseMyPlate.gov. This site includes a SuperTracker plan that can be tailored to you. It also has sample menus and snack ideas.
Created on 08/20/2008
Updated on 09/03/2013
- United States Department of Agriculture. ChooseMyPlate. Brief history of USDA guidelines.
- United States Department of Agriculture. ChooseMyPlate.
- United States Department of Agriculture. ChooseMyPlate. Using MyPlate with MyPyramid.