The Food Plate

MyPyramid.govThe U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offers an overall food guidance system (ChooseMyPlate) to make Americans aware of the vital health benefits of simple and modest improvements in nutrition, physical activity and lifestyle behavior. 

The ChooseMyPlate symbol represents the recommended proportion of foods from each food group (grains, vegetable, fruit, dairy, protein, and oil) and focuses on the importance of making smart food choices in every food group, every day. Each of these food groups provides some, but not all, of the nutrients you need. Foods in one group cannot replace those in another and no one food group is more important than another.  For good health, you need them all along with physical activity.  The amount you need from each group depends on your age, sex, and level of physical activity.



Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Grains are divided into 2 subgroups, whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel -- the bran, germ, and endosperm. Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ -- and removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Popcorn, bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products. The USDA recommends six ounce equivalents of grains with at least three of those coming from whole grains. In general, 3 cups of popcorn, 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or 1/2 cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal can be considered as 1 ounce equivalent from the grains group. Popcorn is a starch exchange recommended by the American Diabetes Association and the American Dietetic Association.


fruitAny fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. The USDA recommends between 1 1/2 - 2 cups of fruits per day. In general, 1 cup of fruit or 100% fruit juice, or 1/2 cup of dried fruit can be considered as 1 cup from the fruit group.


dairyAll fluid milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Foods made from milk that retain their calcium content are part of the group, while foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter, are not. Most milk group choices should be fat-free or low-fat. The USDA recommends 3 cups of milk per day. In general, 1 cup of milk or yogurt, 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese can be considered as 1 cup from the milk group.


All foods made from meat, poultry, fish, dry beans or peas, eggs, nuts, and seeds are considered part of this group. Dry beans and peas are part of this group as well as the vegetable group. Most meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat. Fish, nuts, and seeds contain healthy oils, so choose these foods frequently instead of meat or poultry. Most Americans eat enough food from this group, but need to make leaner and more varied selections of these foods. In general, 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish, 1/4 cup cooked dry beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds can be considered as 1 ounce equivalent from the meat and beans group.


vegetablesAny vegetable or 100% vegetable juice counts as a member of the vegetable group. The USDA recommends between 2-3 cups of vegetables per day. In general, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens can be considered as 1 cup from the vegetable group.


oilsOils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, like the vegetable oils used in cooking. Oils come from many different plants and from fish. A number of foods are naturally high in oils, like, nuts, olives, some fish and avocados. Most oils are high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, and low in saturated fats. Oils from plant sources (vegetable and nut oils) do not contain any cholesterol. In fact, no foods from plants sources contain cholesterol. A few plant oils, however, including coconut oil and palm kernel oil, are high in saturated fats and for nutritional purposes should be considered to be solid fats. Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature, like butter and shortening. Solid fats come from many animal foods and can be made from vegetable oils through a process called hydrogenation. All fats and oils are a mixture of saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids. Solid fats contain more saturated fats and/or trans fats than oils. Oils contain more monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fats. Saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol tend to raise “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels in the blood, which in turn increases the risk for heart disease. To lower risk for heart disease, cut back on foods containing saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol. Most Americans consume enough oil in the foods they eat, such as nuts, fish, cooking oil, and salad dressings. Generally, the USDA recommends consuming no more than 5-6 teaspoons of oils per day.


Physical activity simply means movement of the body that uses energy. Walking, gardening, briskly pushing a baby stroller, climbing the stairs, playing soccer, or dancing the night away are all good examples of being active. For health benefits, physical activity should be moderate or vigorous and add up to at least 30 minutes a day.

How much physical activity is needed?
At a minimum, do moderate intensity activity for 30 minutes most days, or preferably every day. This is in addition to your usual daily activities. Increasing the intensity or the amount of time of activity can have additional health benefits and may be needed to control body weight.