As a registered dietician, one of the most common questions I am asked is, “What is a healthy meal?” Well, that is actually a complicated question. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word “healthy” has many meanings, such as flourishing, not displaying signs of disease or infection, and showing physical/mental/emotional well-being, to name a few. If going by this definition, a “healthy meal” should be a meal that does all of these things and promotes optimal living that fuels us and improves our quality of life. So how does one go about creating a “healthy meal?” That is where the “MyPlate” method comes into play.
The MyPlate method was developed back in 2011 and replaced what many used to know as the food guide pyramid. MyPlate coincides with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to promote eating a well-balanced diet that includes all of the major food groups. These five major food groups include Protein, Grains, Vegetables, Fruit, and Dairy. Using these food groups, MyPlate proposes creating meals with the following considerations:
· Fill ½ of your plate with vegetables and/or fruits.
Pick from a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.
Keep to mostly whole fruits/vegetables or 100% juice.
· Fill ¼ of your plate with protein.
Balance your intake of protein-rich foods between animal sources and plant sources.
· Fill ¼ of your plate with whole grains.
Make ½ of your grain intake for the day come from whole grain sources such as oatmeal, brown rice, and whole wheat breads.
· Consider using dairy as your beverage of choice at meals.
Choose lower-fat, lactose-free, or milk alternatives as your dairy option.
· Use a 9-inch round plate in effort to help with portion control.
The MyPlate method also suggests sticking to foods and beverages with less added sugars, salt, and saturated fat. It also recommends drinking water in between meals. Whether you have hypertension, diabetes, or another type of chronic condition, the MyPlate principles can be applied and individualized to promote healthier living.
Tips for How to Use the MyPlate Method:
· Fill up your plate first with fruits/vegetables.
Next, fill up your plate with lean protein and whole grains.
Filling up your plate with lower-calorie foods like fruits and vegetables can help with portion control of more calorie-dense foods.
· Consider canned or frozen foods.
Canned and frozen produce provide the same nutrients and benefits as fresh foods and can often be more affordable and more readily accessed.
When using canned products, try to find brands with lower sodium or no added salt.
When buying canned/jarred fruit, pick products packed in 100% fruit juice vs. syrup.
Always rinse any canned fruit/vegetables under water before use.
· Look for items that state 100% whole wheat or whole grain.
Ideally, this should be listed as the first ingredient on the food label.
· To help vary your protein, try having 2 or 3 meatless meals per week.
For example, instead of having chicken with rice, mix rice with black beans.
Incorporating fish twice a week is another great option and recommended by the American Heart Association to promote heart health.
· If unable to use milk or lactose-free alternatives as your beverage at meals, consider adding yogurt to your diet.
This can be done in a variety of ways including as a snack, dessert, topping on potatoes, or added to soups.
Yogurt provides three out of the four key nutrients that most adults are missing in their diet: calcium, vitamin D, and potassium.
Low intake of these nutrients is associated with higher incidence of chronic diseases and illnesses.
Many people who cannot tolerate regular cow’s milk can tolerate yogurt.
There are also many lactose-free/milk alternative options that are fortified with these nutrients.
Although these tips may help get you started, the important thing to remember is that your “MyPlate” should be personalized to you. In the end, aim to include most/all the food groups in your meals, choose foods that will help fuel your body (not drag you down), stay hydrated, and have fun with it!
- Collette Powers, MA, RDN, LDN, ACSM EP
Registered Dietician and Certified Exercise Physiologist