Heart-Health: Out With the Pyramid, In With the Plate

Updated:Jan 15,2014

Get the scoop on Myplate

It’s easy to step up to the plate — MyPlate, that is — to get a balanced diet from all the food groups. MyPlate has replaced the Food Guide Pyramid with a new shape and updated recommendations to help consumers follow the federal government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines.

A simple plate is divided into the basic food groups:  fruit, vegetables, grains and protein. A smaller circle next to it is for low-fat and fat-free dairy products.

“MyPlate has replaced the Food Guide Pyramid with something that’s visually practical and simple to understand,” said Linda Van Horn, Ph.D., R.D., a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and immediate past chairman of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. “It’s a reminder that all meals need to include fruits, vegetables and whole grains.”

MyPlate Graphic

MyPlate is a trademark of the USDA.

The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, a center within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, developed the icon. The tool is being used in schools, and in WIC, SNAP and other federal and community health programs and clinics.

Van Horn said the change isn’t all visual. MyPlate emphasizes meals — with a particular focus on low-fat and fat-free dairy products — and what they should include. It also focuses on portion sizes and how to divide your plate to get the nutrients you need.

Fruit GroupVegetable GroupProtein Foods GroupGrains GroupDairy Group
MyPlate.gov FruitGroupMyPlate.gov Vegetable GroupMyPlate.gov Protein GroupMyPlate.gov Grain GroupMyPlate.gov Dairy Group
 Focus on fruits.Vary your veggies.

 Go lean with protein.

Make at least half your grains whole. Get your calcium-rich foods.

ChooseMyplate.gov also includes a variety of great tools to help you put the plate into action. For example, you can type in a food name — from apple to zucchini — for quick, helpful breakdowns of the nutritional information. There are 13 entries in the apple category, so you’ll find info on everything from the plain fruit to apple pie to a Waldorf salad.

You can also use Myplate to help plan a healthy menu for the whole family.

“Preventing  weight gain is much easier than weight loss,” Van Horn said. “All adults should be encouraged to model a healthy diet and lifestyle for  the children in their lives. Pediatric obesity is totally preventable. America needs to rally together to make things better for the generation that follows.”

Here’s a quick overview of specific dietary concerns — see your doctor for more advice:

Weight loss is the most and effective way to help prevent and control type 2 diabetes, according to Van Horn. Reduce your calorie intake by 500 calories a day to lose about a pound a week. And choosing the lower-calorie, higher-fiber and vegetable protein-rich foods such as those recommended by the DASH diet and/or Mediterranean diet can help to accomplish these goals. Finally, avoiding alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages, empty-calorie snacks and desserts and watching portion sizes can all help make it happen.

“In terms of heart health, a Mediterranean or DASH-type diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish and healthy oils, offers a wealth of important nutrients, has wonderful flavor and can help lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure,” Van Horn said.

High blood pressure: Following the DASH diet, reducing sodium intake, getting enough potassium and fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains and  low-fat/nonfat dairy are important steps on the path to controlling high blood pressure.

Cholesterol and cardiac rehab: Following a diet that’s low in saturated fat, limits cholesterol and trans fats with an increase in polyunsaturated fat and higher dietary fiber, is a good starting point. Download the American Heart Association’s diet and lifestyle recommendations.

Here are the highlights:
  1. Use up at least as many calories as you take in.  
  2. Be physically active on a regular basis. 
  3. Eat a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups.
  4. Eat less of the nutrient-poor foods. 
  5. Don’t smoke — and stay away from tobacco smoke.
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