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INSTEAD of showing the traditional food pyramid, the MyPlate plan uses a plate as an icon that helps remind individuals how much of each food group they should be eating, encouraging Americans to make half of their meals fruits and vegetables as part of a balanced diet, says the August 2011 issue of the UCLA Division of Geriatrics Healthy / Years.

 

“Since people eat food and meals (not pyramids), this new image gives them a sense for what a healthy plate of food should look like, and what the relative amounts of each of the food groups should be,” says Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition.

In unveiling the new symbol along with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, First Lady Michelle Obama said, “When it comes to eating, what’s more simple than a plate?”

If an American’s actual plate of food mirrors the produce-heavy icon, she added, “then we’re good, it’s as simple as that.”

The health letter offers a breakdown of the five MyPlate food groups, according to the program description:

• Grains group — Make at least half your grains whole.

Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product — such as bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas and grits.

Grains are divided into two subgroups:

• Whole grains contain the entire kernel — the bran, germ and endosperm.

Examples include whole-wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, whole cornmeal and brown rice.

• Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ.

This process gives grains a finer texture and improves their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron and many vitamins.

Examples of refined grain products include white flour, degermed cornmeal, white bread and white rice.

Most refined grains are enriched — which means certain B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid) and iron have been added back after processing.

Some food products are made from mixtures of whole grains and refined grains.

• Vegetable group — Vary your veggies.

This group includes any vegetable or 100 percent vegetable juice.
 
Vegetables may be raw or cooked; fresh, frozen, canned or dried/dehydrated; and may be whole, cut-up or mashed.

Vegetables are organized into five subgroups, based on their nutrient content, such as:

• Dark, green vegetables — Broccoli, collared greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach.

• Starchy vegetables — Corn, fresh green peas, green lima beans, plantains, potatoes.

• Red and orange vegetables — Acorn squash, butternut squash, carrots, pumpkin, red peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes.

• Beans and peas — Black beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney beans, lentils, pinto beans, soy beans.

• Other vegetables — Artichokes, asparagus, avocados, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, eggplants, green beans, mushrooms, onions, turnips, zucchini.

• Fruit Group — Focus on fruits.

Any fruit or 100 percent fruit juice counts as part of the Fruit Group.

Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen or dried, and may be whole, cut-up or pureed.

Examples include apples, bananas, berries, cherries, grapefruit, grapes, kiwifruits, limes, mangoes, melons, oranges, peaches, pineapple, plums and raisins.

Try to eat fresh fruit as much as possible, as it tends to contain more nutrients than some other versions (such as, concentrated juice), adds the letter.

• Dairy Group — Get your calcium-rich foods.

This includes all fluid milk products and many foods made from milk — most Dairy Group choices should be fat-free or low-fat.

Foods made from milk that retain their calcium content are part of the group, while foods made from milk that have little or no calcium, such as cheese, cream and butter are not.

Calcium-fortified soymilk (soy beverage) is also part of the Dairy Group.

Choose fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt or cheese; otherwise, the fat counts against your maximum limit for “empty calories” — calories from solid fats and added sugars are often called empty calories because they add calories to the food but few or no nutrients.

If sweetened milk products are chosen (flavored milk, yogurt, drinkable yogurt, desserts), the added sugars also count against your maximum limit for “empty calories.”

• Protein Group — Go lean with protein.

All foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts and seeds are considered part of the Protein Group.

Beans and peas are also part of the Vegetable Group.

To improve nutrient intake and health benefits, choose a variety of protein foods, including at least eight ounces of cooked seafood per week.

However, vegetarian options in the Protein Foods Group do not include the advice to consume seafood; instead, there is a choice of beans and peas, processed soy products and nuts and seeds.

Choose lean or low-fat meat and poultry; otherwise, the extra fat counts against your maximum limit for “empty calories.”

Select seafood that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, sardines and anchovies.

Check the product label for sodium content — added sodium is present in processed meats, such as ham, sausage, frankfurters and luncheon or deli meats, as well as “self-basting” fresh chicken, turkey and pork that have been enhanced with a sodium-containing solution.

In conclusion, Bowerman suggests looking at your plate or bowl when you sit down to eat for signs of a healthy meal, such as a colorful plate which indicates the presence of plenty of fruits and vegetables, since starches tend to be beige and brown and fats and sugars are colorless, and make sure to incorporate some fruit and/or vegetable with every meal.

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