Happy National Nutrition Month! To celebrate, we are going to focus on the main nutrition principles that lead to healthy eating and healthier lives throughout the month. It is important to keep in mind that everyone is different and therefore, everyone has a different goal when it comes to nutrition, diet, and health. Please use this information to help you, but always consult with a dietitian before starting a new diet plan so that you can get personalized information and recommendations.
The US Department of Agriculture created MyPlate to visually understand a healthy diet and to help guide individuals to make healthier choices. It is based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. These are revised and released every 5 years based on the changing nutritional needs of Americans.
MyPlate shows what and how much to eat within each of the food groups. It is supposed to be a powerful took that serves as a visual template for balance, variety, and moderation. Because of this, there is no singular or prescribed MyPlate way to eat, so it gives each person the individual freedom to choose their foods and their meals, unlike other more restrictive diet plans. The basic MyPlate contains fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein.
- Fruit: any fruit or 100% juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, frozen, or dried/dehydrated, and may be whole, cut-up, pureed, or cooked. At least half of the recommended amount of fruit should come from whole fruit, rather than 100% fruit juice. Fruit is important because most fruits are naturally low in fat, sodium, and calories, and fruits don’t have cholesterol. Fruits are also a source of many essential nutrients that many people don’t get enough of, including potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C and folate.
- Vegetables: Any vegetables or 100% vegetable juice counts as part of the vegetable group. Vegetables may be raw or cooked, fresh frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated, and may be cut-up, or mashed. Most vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories (without sauces and seasonings) and provide nutrients such as potassium, dietary fiber, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
- Grains: Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, grits, and tortillas are examples of grain products. Foods such as popcorn, rice, and oatmeal are also included in the grain group. Grains are divided into 2 subgroups: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel and provides more nutrients and vitamins than refined grains. Examples of whole grains include whole wheat flour, oatmeal, brown rice, whole grain cornmeal and pastas. Refined grains have been milled so that the bran and germ of the grain are removed to improve shelf-life and provide a finer texture. However, this means that vitamins, fiber, and other minerals are removed from the grain as well. Refined grains include the word “enriched” on the ingredient label.
- Protein: All foods made from seafood, meal, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy products are part of the protein food group. Meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat, like 93% lean ground beef, pork loin, and skinless chicken breasts. Seafood options that are higher in beneficial fatty acids like Omega-3’s are salmon, anchovies, and trout. Vegetarian options in the protein category include beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy products.
- Dairy: The dairy group includes milk, yogurt, cheese, lactose free milk, fortified soy milk, and yogurt. It does not include foods made from milk that have little calcium and high fat content such as cream cheese, sour cream, cream, and butter. The dairy group provides many nutrients including calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B12, protein, potassium, zinc, choline, magnesium, and selenium.
General Nutrition Recommendations
While it is important to understand the food groups and the benefits they provide to your body, it is perhaps more important to understand that variety, portions, and overall nutrition contribute to a healthier lifestyle over the long term. While every meal may not look like the MyPlate, it is still crucial to focus on the overall trend of your diet. When it is challenging to follow the exact MyPlate guidelines for every meal, you can still make healthy choices by following these recommendations.
- Get at least 3 food groups with each meal. When thinking about making meals, or ordering at a restaurant, aim for at least 3 of the food groups above to be included. By doing so, you are making sure that you have a variety of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
- Make sure your portions aren’t too big. Portion size is an important part of nutrition because even if you are eating the healthiest foods, eating them at large portions can be unhealthy. Evaluate your plate and ensure that each food group portion is smaller than the palm of your hand. If it is larger, take less or eat less of that food group on your plate. However, the only exception to this recommendation is if the vegetable food group is larger than your palm, then eat away! That is because vegetables prepared as discussed earlier in this blog, are low in calories, fat, and carbohydrates, and high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
- Treat yourself. A healthy diet includes treats and desserts that you may not think fit into a diet plan. However, these are important for variety and longevity too. So, when you want to add a dessert to dinner or treat yourself to something off a menu that doesn’t necessarily fit into the healthier food groups above, go for it. A healthy diet is all about balance, so savor those treats, but don’t go overboard. If you don’t treat yourself every so often then the joy of food will be lost, and that is the start of an unhealthy relationship with food.
Whether you are starting to make lifestyle changes for a healthier future, trying to maintain good health, or trying to manage a disease, using MyPlate can help you achieve your goals. It is important to remember that it is a tool to help you make healthier choices, add variety to your diet, and meet nutritional needs. However, please consult a dietitian or healthcare provider for a more personalized approach using MyPlate. They will be able to look at your current height, weight, age, and past medical history to determine how many servings of each food group you should be eating, as well as what food groups you should try to limit.