When it’s time for dinner, most of us eat off of a plate. So think of the Healthy Eating Plate as a blueprint for a typical meal, for yourself and your family. It’s similar in concept to MyPlate, with colorful quadrants reserved for vegetables (green), fruits (red), protein (orange), and grains (brown). But unlike MyPlate, it offers important messages about diet quality, not just quantity:
Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits. The more color, and the more variety, the better. Most Americans don’t get enough vegetables, especially the dark green and red-orange types, or fruits. On the Healthy Eating Plate, just like the Healthy Eating Pyramid, potatoes and French fries don’t count as vegetables.
Save a quarter of your plate for whole grains—not just any grains: MyPlate tells you to reserve a quarter of your plate for grains. But grains are not essential for good health. What’s essential is to make any grains you eatwhole grains, since these have a gentler effect on blood sugar and insulin than refined grains. Whole grains include whole wheat, brown rice, oats, barley, and the like, as well as foods made with them, such as whole wheat pasta. The less processed the whole grains, the better: Finely ground grain is more rapidly digested, and in turn, has a greater impact on blood sugar than more coarsely ground or intact grains. So choose steel cut oats instead of instant, sugared oats or choose whole wheatberries instead of whole wheat bread.
Pick a healthy source of protein to fill one quarter of your plate: On MyPlate, the “protein” quadrant of the plate could be filled with a hamburger or hot dog. The Healthy Eating Plate, in contrast, acknowledges that some protein sources (fish, chicken, beans, nuts) are healthier than others (red meat and processed meat).
Enjoy healthy fats. The glass bottle near the Healthy Eating Plate is a reminder to use healthy oils, like olive and canola, in cooking, on salad, and at the table. Limit butter, and avoid unhealthy trans fats. Though the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 acknowledges that Americans need to consume more plant oils, these healthy oils are nowhere to be found on MyPlate.
Drink water, coffee or tea. On the Healthy Eating Plate, complete your meal with a glass of water, or if you like, a cup of tea or coffee (which also are low calorie and have health benefits)—not the glass of milk that MyPlate recommends. (Questions about caffeine and kids? Read more.) Limit milk and dairy products to one to two servings per day and limit juice to a small glass per day. Skip the sugary drinks.
Stay active. The figure scampering across the bottom of the Healthy Eating Plate’s placemat is a reminder that staying active is half of the secret to weight control. The other half is eating a healthy diet with modest portions that meet your calorie needs. Since two out of three U.S. adults and one in three children are overweight or obese, one thing is clear: Many of us have been choosing plates that are too large.