The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has replaced MyPyramid with MyPlate (www.choosemyplate.org). This plate was designed to simplify complex nutrition messages and provide the general public with a basic idea of how to improve their daily food choices by presenting food groups on a plate.
As seen above, "Vegetables" refers to all vegetables and legumes including beans and lentils; "Fruit" includes all fruits; "Grains" includes intact grains like oatmeal or brown rice and grain products such as breads, pasta and crackers; "Protein" includes fish, chicken, meat, legumes, nuts, and eggs; "Dairy" includes milk, yogurt and cheese.
Dietitians have been using plates for years to portray balanced food choices for clients. However, dietitians are able to personalize a plate for an individual to fit their clients' lifestyle. What if you are in a heavy training phase or trying to lose weight? What if you have diabetes or prefer a vegetarian diet? How would that change the balance of foods on YOUR plate? How would your lifestyle and health concerns impact your food choices?
While this article isn't the same as a personal consultation, here are some general plates that I recommend for different groups of people, starting with some changes that I'd make to MyPlate for all of us.
A Better Way to Categorize Foods
The USDA's "Vegetables" group needs reorganization.
The USDA has grouped all vegetables, including starchy vegetables, beans and lentils, into one group. While this may simplify things a bit, it's not nutritionally appropriate. The "vegetables" group should be non-starchy vegetables only. This would include lettuce, greens, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, etc., all vegetables except starchy vegetables and beans and lentils. Starchy vegetables, including all varieties of potatoes, winter squash, and corn, along with all beans and lentils should move over to the "Grains" side of the plate.
Let "Fruit" accompany your meal and expand the Non-Starchy Vegetable section.
Filling only a quarter of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, as pictured by the USDA, will leave you short on ever-important fiber and antioxidants. Fill half of your plate with tasty, crunchy and colorful non-starchy veggies and add fruit to your meal as a side or a dessert.
Grains should be "Whole Grains".
The USDA recommends that half our grains be whole. However, this advice leaves us eating a significant amount of empty calories in refined grain breads, pastas, crackers and cereals. An emphasis on making all grains choices whole is more appropriate and certainly doable for most of us. These 100 percent whole grain foods are widely available and their tastes and textures have greatly improved during the past five years. This whole grain reference includes all 100 percent whole grain breads, crackers and pastas, and even better choices, intact whole grains, such as old-fashioned oatmeal, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, millet and amaranth.
Get rid of the dairy group and consider those foods a part of the "Protein" category.
We don't need dairy foods with every meal as the USDA suggests. We can get the nutrients from dairy in a variety of other foods. Dairy foods provide significant amounts of protein and minerals, and are more appropriately categorized with Proteins.
Therefore, from a nutritionist's perspective speaking from an evidenced base practice, I believe the plates could accommodate specific needs like this: