Densie Webb

How the New USDA Guidelines Change Your Meals

When it comes to eating, who thinks about pyramids? And yet, the ubiquitous food pyramid has been an icon for healthy eating since 2005. Not anymore. Last month, the new USDA guidelines replaced the food pyramid with MyPlate -- and it's easy to see why.

Suddenly, slivers on a pyramid become servings at the dinner table, making you wonder, "Why didn't they do this before?"

"MyPlate is a ‘new generation' icon," says Dr. Robert C. Post, deputy director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. "‘Simplicity' is the keyword here. We're expecting it to be around for years to come as a template of how to build healthier meals."

The plate is divided into four sections -- fruits, vegetables, grains and protein -- with a "glass" of dairy on the side. It's an easy-to-use diagram that says: "This is what a healthy meal should look like."


USDA's MyPlate

If there's one message from the MyPlate image that comes across with startling clarity, it's that rather than having a small vegetable side dish next to a big meat entree, a whopping half of your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables, with protein taking up less than a quarter.

The USDA also recommends making at least half of your carbohydrates whole grains, sticking with fat-free or low-fat dairy products and choosing lean protein.

Check out the USDA's food plan calculator to determine your proportions and daily caloric needs.

Here, 10 ways to help you meet the new USDA guidelines:

1. Pair vegetables with sandwiches

Add romaine or leaf lettuce (which are richer in beta-carotene than other types), tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and/or avocadoes to sandwiches and wraps.

2. Think frozen

Frozen vegetables are quick and easy to use -- and just as nutritious as the fresh varieties. Try adding frozen corn, peas, green beans, broccoli or spinach to some of your favorite dishes, including pastas, salads and meat entrees.

3. Keep visible reminders to eat fruit

Place a bowl of whole fruit on the kitchen table, counter or in the refrigerator.

4. Snack on fruit smoothies

Blend strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, bananas and 100 percent fruit juice to make nutrient-packed smoothies.

5. Include fruit at breakfast

Top your cereal with bananas, peaches or strawberries. Add blueberries to pancakes. Drink 100 percent orange or grapefruit juice. Or mix fruit with fat-free or low-fat yogurt.

6. Look for whole grains

First on the ingredient list of any grain you buy should be whole wheat, brown rice, bulgur, buckwheat, oatmeal, whole-grain cornmeal, whole oats, whole rye or wild rice.

7. Don't overlook popcorn

It's a healthy whole-grain snack -- as long as you make it with little or no added salt or butter.

8. Be picky about protein

Choose skinless poultry, fish, lean cuts of meat (like round or sirloin) and ground beef that's at least 90 percent lean. Keep portions small, as per MyPlate proportions.

9. Don't forget plant proteins

Beans, lentils and peas are excellent sources of protein and are naturally low in fat. A bonus: They also count toward your daily vegetable quota.

10. Switch to low-fat dairy

In addition to opting for low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese, substitute plain yogurt for sour cream and order coffee, lattes and cappuccinos with fat-free or low-fat milk.


Densie Webb is a registered dietitian and a freelance health and nutrition writer and editor


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