MyPyramid: Step Up to a Healthier Plate

In April 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its new Food Guidance System, called “MyPyramid.”  This new system is geared toward offering Americans personalized guidance on how to eat healthfully and increase physical activity—the key components of a healthy lifestyle.  While the pyramid may look a bit different, it’s better than ever.  If used with its interactive web tools, MyPyramid will help take the mystery out of healthy eating and physical activity.  It’s even possible to use the website to analyze and track your progress toward making dietary and activity changes.  (For more about MyPyramid, go to

To get you started with MyPyramid, its highlights are outlined below.

Meat and Beans:  Go Lean With Protein

Key Recommendations:

  1. Eat 5 ½ ounces every day.
  2. Choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry.
  3. Bake it, broil it or grill it.
  4. Vary your choices with fish, beans, nuts and seeds.

What this means for you:  When selecting meat and poultry, look for lean cuts of beef and pork by buying cuts that have the words round and loin in the names (e.g., sirloin, tenderloin, bottom round, etc.)—ham is also a lean choice.  Choose extra lean ground beef. The label should say at least “90% lean.”  When selecting poultry, look for skinless chicken or turkey parts, or take off the skin before cooking.  Boneless skinless chicken breasts and turkey breast cuts – tenderloins and cutlets – are the leanest poultry choices.  For sandwiches, try lean turkey, roast beef, ham, or low-fat luncheon meats.  Finally, when preparing meat and poultry, trim or remove fat and skin, and drain away drippings before serving.

Hint:  For more ideas and tips on making good choices, go to

For more information about protein and your health, go to Protein and Health.

Milk:  Get Your Calcium-rich Foods

Key Recommendations:

  1. Get 3 cups every day (for kids aged 2 to 8 years it’s 2 cups per day).
  2. Go low-fat or fat-free when you choose milk, yogurt and other milk products.
  3. If you don’t or can’t consume milk, choose lactose-free products or other calcium sources such as fortified foods and beverages.

What this means for you:  Drink milk, eat yogurt or include cheese at most meals.  Keep in mind that using lower fat dairy products will help you manage your weight as well as keep your bones strong.
Hint:  If you don’t or can’t drink milk, you can try lactose-free products or other calcium sources such as fortified foods (breakfast cereals, breads, etc.) or beverages (orange juice, soy milk and rice milk). has additional information under “Inside the Pyramid” (Milk Group).

Oils:  Know Your Fats

Key Recommendations:

  1. Make most of your fat sources from fish, nuts and vegetable oils.
  2. Limit solid fats like butter, stick margarine, shortening and lard.
  3. Check the Nutrition Facts label to keep saturated fats and trans fats low.

What this means for you:  Choose foods that are low in fat of all types, particularly saturated fats and trans fats.  Choose dairy products that are low-fat or fat-free.  When selecting packaged foods, check the label for trans fats (these can be found in cookies, crackers, baked goods, margarines and other items).

Hint:  For more information on dietary fat, check out Skinny on Dietary and Fat.

Fruits:  Focus on Fruits

Key Recommendations:

  1. Eat 2 cups every day.
  2. Eat a variety of fruit.
  3. Choose fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruit.
  4. Go easy on fruit juices.

What this means for you:  Include fruit at two of your meals each day and you’ll easily meet the 2-cup goal. 
Hint:  Start early in the day. Have raisins in your cereal and a small glass of orange juice with breakfast, and a piece of fruit with lunch or dinner.  Keep a small cooler in the car with fresh fruit so if you get stuck in traffic or need to grab a fast meal, you can add some “color” to your plate.

Vegetables:  Vary Your Veggies

Key Recommendations:

  1. Eat 2 ½ cups every day.
  2. Eat more dark-green veggies like broccoli, spinach and other dark leafy greens.
  3. Eat more orange vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes.
  4. Eat more dry beans and peas like pinto beans, kidney beans and lentils.

What this means for you:  Think colorful when you are eating a meal:  the more colors on your plate that comes from vegetables, the better. 

Hint:  Two and half cups sounds like a lot if you think of eating just one vegetable such as broccoli.  Instead, break it down.  For example, have a cup of vegetable soup or a small salad (1 1/2 cups) at lunchtime, and then have a steamed vegetable (1 cup), raw carrots (1/2 cup) or another salad (1 1/2 cups) at dinnertime.  It adds up quickly if you start early in the day.

Grains:  Make Half Your Grains Whole

Key Recommendations:

  1. Eat 6 oz. every day:  1 ounce equals 1 slice of bread, about 1 cup (small bowl) of breakfast cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta.
  2. Eat at least 3 oz. of whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice or pasta every day.

What this means for you:  Eat more fiber.  Whole grains can be found in cereals, breads (look for whole grain on the label) and also by eating foods such as brown rice, oatmeal and popcorn. 

Hint:  Go to and click on “Inside the Pyramid” (Grains Group) for more information on grains and whole grains.  For tips on how to include more whole grains, go to

Physical Activity:  Find Your Balance Between Food and Physical Activity

Key Recommendations:

  1. Be physically active for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
  2. Children and teenagers should be physically active for 60 minutes every day or most days.

What this means for you:  Move more.  The more you exercise, the healthier you’ll be.  Being “fit” means not only having cardiovascular fitness (e.g., walking, running, biking or swimming) but also being strong (e.g., weightlifting or Pilates) and flexible (e.g., stretching, yoga). 

Hint:  Try wearing an inexpensive step-counter.  Work toward a goal of 10,000 steps per day.  You’ll be surprised at how much your activity level increases when you know your step-count. 

For additional ideas and tips, go to

Discretionary Calories

At the top of the old Food Guide Pyramid, there was a small tip that represented foods such sweetened soft drinks, jellies, syrups, candy, as well as all the fats and oils and alcoholic beverages.  In MyPyramid, the fats are represented by a small, very thin band of yellow.  Sweets, sugars and alcoholic beverages do not have an actual place in the pyramid.  Instead, it is recommended that these foods, which typically have few vitamins and minerals, be eaten in very small amounts now called “discretionary calories.”

Think of discretionary calories as calories you can “play” with.  Most of the time, you need to “spend” your calories on foods and drinks that will provide lots of vitamins and minerals that will nourish your body.  The more physically activity you are, the more discretionary or “play” calories you get to spend.

What this means for you:  You have about 100 calories to 300 calories each day that you can “spend” or eat anyway you want to.  Keep in mind that most people are on the low end of this range (towards 100 calories) unless they are extremely active (more than 30 minutes per day of vigorous, sweat-producing activity).  Discretionary calories can be used for foods like sweetened soft drinks, desserts, French fries, or a glass of beer or wine. 

Hint:  Use’s interactive tool, “My Pyramid Plan” to figure out how many servings you need from each food group for your style of eating and fitness level.  To figure out how many discretionary calories you can have each day, go to:


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