What Does MyPlate Mean to You?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide a roadmap for better food choices based on the latest science related to keeping people healthy. The guidelines, which are updated every five years, are geared towards all over the age of two, as well as certain populations at risk for chronic disease. The guidelines are designed to be used for population based nutrition messaging and education but the tool that can help you “know what to eat” is MyPlate.1MyPlate is the visual depiction of how to plan a healthful meal, and meal plan. MyPlate clearly conveys how to balance your food choices to maximize your nutrition and promote good health, so let’s take a walk through MyPlate.

MyPlate clearly shows that three fourths of your meal should come from plant foods including grains, fruits and vegetables. The remaining fourth of the plate comes from protein foods like meat, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, eggs and nuts, including walnuts. While the inclusion of the meat, poultry and fish likely makes sense, you might wonder about the seeds, beans and nuts. Seeds, beans and nuts are all sources of plant protein and can provide the protein you need without the saturated fat, which is the less desirable fat found in higher amounts in animal protein foods. The fat found in animal protein foods is a mix of the less desirable saturated fats and more desirable unsaturated fats. Plant protein foods that contain fat, generally contain more of the unsaturated fats and less saturated fat, making them better choices.

Nuts and seeds are the main plant protein foods that contribute fat to the diet and, in addition to watching portions, which nut or seed you choose will impact the balance of desirable to less than desirable fats. Brazil nuts, Macadamias and cashews provide the most saturated fat in a portion where walnuts, pistachios, pecan and hazelnuts provide more unsaturated fat. One unique aspect of fat in nuts is the omega-3 found in the walnut. The walnut provides 2.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acid in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, the plant based essential fatty acid. The only other nut with this fatty acid is the pecan which has 0.5 grams in one ounce. 2

Alongside the picture of MyPlate is the important glass of milk. MyPlate provides variety in this food group in order to meet the nutritional needs of vegetarians by including both dairy and calcium-fortified soymilk, along with yogurt or cheese made from either.

MyPlate displays how to balance animal and plant foods in a colorful and simple way but some of that simplicity resulted in added fats and oils not being displayed on the MyPlate graphic. Fats and oils may not be a food group on MyPlate but the guidelines do include the importance of using oils rather than solid fats.

If you haven’t visited MyPlate yet take some time to see how it can help you develop a healthier eating plan.

  1. USDA Choosemyplate.gov. Accessed at  http://www.choosemyplate.gov/
  2. Alpha-linolenic acid: http://www.walnuts.org/nutrition/nutrition-info/alpha-linolenic-acid/
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