The MyPlate icon, seen on http://www.choosemyplate.gov, has replaced the USDA Food Pyramid as the premier guide to more healthful eating. The MyPlate message is designed around the five food groups people should eat every day: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. The icon also shows how much of your plate should be made up of each of these foods.
Half of the plate: Fruits and vegetables that are fresh, frozen or canned in their own juice can all be used to fill up half of your plate. It is especially important to get a variety of fruits and vegetables, in a multitude of flavors and colors. This will ensure a good mix of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Aim for 2 cups daily of fruits and 2 to 3 cups daily of vegetables.
Make those grains whole: When filling the grains portion of your plate, aim to make at least half of them whole, such as 100 percent whole-grain breads, cereals, brown rice and pastas. Try unusual textures and flavors, such as quinoa, barley or amaranth. Whole grains are rich in vitamins and high in fiber, helping with proper digestion and feelings of fullness. Look for breads, cereals, crackers and grains with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Choose 5 to 8 servings daily, with 3 to 4 of them being whole grain.
Fat-free or low-fat dairy: Whole milk and 2 percent milk have more calories and fat than 1 percent or skim versions. Choosing low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese and yogurt can give you the same amount of calcium and vitamin D without the unwanted fat and calories. Try Greek or plain, unflavored yogurt, and add your own multigrain cereal and fresh fruit for a tasty breakfast without added sugars. Lactaid milk can help those with lactose intolerance, or try fortified soy milk instead. One serving of dairy is 8 ounces (1 cup) of milk and yogurt or 11/2 to 2 ounces of cheese. MyPlate recommends 2 to 3 servings daily of dairy.
Vary the protein: The protein portion of the plate can be made up of many different types of foods. The most common sources of protein are meats and poultry, but you can also get your protein from eggs, beans, nuts and seafood. Meats should be lean, and serving sizes should be no bigger than a deck of cards, or about 3 ounces. Consider meatless meals once a week and seafood two nights a week. Canned salmon and tuna are good sources of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and beans are rich in fiber, filling you up with fewer calories. Most adults only need 5 to 6 ounces daily, per USDA guidelines. Look for 90 percent lean ground beef and turkey, and buy skinless chicken.
Sodium and empty calories: When choosing your drinks, try to have water as much as possible, especially in place of sugary beverages. You also want to eat foods that are lower in sodium. Foods that tend to be higher in sodium include canned, processed and fast foods. Foods that are high in sodium or fat should be eaten only once in a while. When cooking with fats, use small amounts of canola or olive oil instead of solid fats such as lard, stick margarine or butter. For more specifics about cutting back on salt, saturated fat and added sugars, see the 2010 Dietary Guidelines at choosemyplate.gov.
Enjoy, but eat less: It is always important to enjoy the food you are eating but not to overindulge. Try not to eat in front of the television. If you are going out to eat, try selecting more healthful options, or eat only half if the portion is large. It is also helpful to know how many calories you should be taking in each day. For calorie information see http://www.calorieking.com or http://www.myfitnesspal.com. The MyPlate site can also help with meal planning and tracking.
Get active: Try and find activities that fit into your lifestyle and do them for as long as you can, even if it's only 10 minutes at a time. Increasing your activity as much as possible throughout the day can add up. You should try to get about 21/2 hours of physical activity in each week, or about 20 minutes a day. For more exercise tips, go to hsph.harvard.edu.