What is MyPlate?

North Texas Food Bank’s Nutrition Services team explains how the USDA tool can help you plan a nutritious and healthy diet.

Photo courtesy Adobe Stock.

Remember the Food Guide Pyramid? It first evolved in Sweden in the 1970s and was adapted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1992. A lot has changed since the Food Pyramid was first introduced and in 2011, the USDA replaced it with MyPlate. With the advancement of technology and health science, MyPlate takes what we’ve learned from the Food Pyramid and now provides a more personalized approach to healthy eating.  

Chances are you may have seen the MyPlate diagram displayed in school cafeterias, community recreation centers, health facilities or elsewhere. Whether you’re familiar with MyPlate or you are just learning about it now, the North Texas Food Bank’s Nutrition Services team provides you with a helpful foundation here to understand and hopefully utilize it in your daily life.  

MyPlate is based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and is the modern guide to help us make better food choices every day so that we can meet our health goals and dietary needs. Not only is MyPlate easy to use, customizable and science-based, it’s also a wonderful way to enjoy healthier eating. MyPlate alone is not intended to change our behavior, but rather to provide us with useful resources and tools for tracking our daily food intake and physical activity. 

MyPlate illustrates the five food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy) using a familiar place setting. It represents what and how much to eat from each food group throughout the day, whether you eat on a plate, from a bowl or another way. Before we learn more about each of the five food groups, the video below shows how using MyPlate to make minor changes can positively impact your healthy eating style.   


Understanding the Five Food Groups

Food is essential for life, but many people in the U.S. don’t get enough to eat every day. Moreover, even if someone is well-fed, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are well-nourished or getting the right nutrients. So, what is in food that makes it so important? Well, food provides us with the necessary nutrients that our bodies need to grow, repair tissues and fuel the body’s many systems. 

There are two categories of nutrients:  

  • Macronutrients in the form of carbohydrates, proteins and fats that provide calories for energy. 
  • Micronutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals that help the body grow and develop. 

The USDA categorizes foods into five food groups based on the main nutrients they contain. Since many people eat foods that don’t fit into any of the food groups like chips, bacon and sports drinks (food items that are low in nutrients and high in calories, unhealthy fat, sodium and/or added sugar), we may not always know what foods belong in each food group. Using food groups is a helpful way to learn about different foods and the nutrients they contain. Additionally, to ensure that our bodies get all the nutrients they need, it’s important to eat a variety of foods from every food group.  

The following diagram, created by healthyeating.org, provides examples of common foods in each of the five food groups. 

The Fruit Group includes all fruits and 100% fruit juice. At least half of the recommended amount of fruit eaten should come from whole fruit, rather than 100% fruit juice. Fruits may be fresh, frozen, canned or dried/dehydrated and can be eaten whole, cut up, puréed (mashed) or cooked.

Eating a variety of fruits has many health benefits as fruits provide the nutrients needed to maintain your health and body. Specifically, fruits provide many essential nutrients people don’t get enough of like dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin C and folate. Diets rich in dietary fiber help reduce blood cholesterol levels and are important for proper bowel functions while potassium helps maintain healthy blood pressure. Lastly, vitamin C is important for the growth and repair of all body tissue, it helps heal cuts and wounds, and it helps your body absorb iron more easily. 

The Vegetable Group includes any vegetable or 100% vegetable juice. Vegetables may be eaten raw or cooked and can be fresh, frozen, canned or dried. Like the fruit group, vegetables can be enjoyed whole, cut-up or puréed (mashed). Scientifically, any food with a seed in it, such as a tomato or avocado is technically a fruit. However, food-wise, tomatoes and avocados are classified in the vegetables group because they are eaten as vegetables and are not as sweet as typical fruits. Vegetables are organized into five subgroups based on their nutrients:

  • Dark green (broccoli, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, watercress, mixed greens, etc.)
  • Red and orange (carrot, sweet potato, pumpkin, winter squashes, red/yellow bell peppers, etc.)
  • Beans, peas, lentils (garbanzo, lima, mung, pinto, soy, split peas, red/brown/green lentils, etc.)
  • Starchy (white potatoes, corn, cassava, plantains, hominy, etc.)
  • Other vegetables (cauliflower, asparagus, cucumbers, avocados, mushrooms, etc.)

Like fruits, vegetables are important sources of potassium, dietary fiber, folate, vitamin A and vitamin C. In addition to the health benefits of the other nutrients, Vitamin A keeps our eyes and skin healthy and helps protect against infections.

The Grains Group is foods made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain. Grains have two subgroups:

  • Whole grains (whole-wheat flour, bulgur/cracked wheat, oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, etc.)
  • Refined grains (white flour, corn grits, white bread and white rice)

Whole grains have the entire grain kernel, which includes the bran, germ and endosperm. Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. Unfortunately, the milling process also removes the most beneficial nutrients we would get when eating whole grains. For this reason, it’s important to make half the grains we eat whole grains because they are full of health-promoting nutrients like serval B vitamins, iron, magnesium, selenium, dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates. B vitamins play a key role in metabolism and a healthy nervous system while iron is used to carry oxygen in our blood. Finally, magnesium is important for building bones while selenium protects cells from oxidation and helps maintain a healthy immune system.

Since some food products are made from mixtures of whole grains and refined grains, it’s important to read the Nutrition Facts label and ingredients list to determine which ingredients are whole grains in the food product. Only foods that are made with 100% whole grains are considered a whole grain food.

The Protein Group includes all foods made from:

  • Meat, poultry and eggs
  • Seafood
  • Beans, peas and lentils (also a part of the vegetable food group)
  • Nuts, seeds and soy products

Many Americans get the right amount of protein needed from meat, poultry, and eggs, but do not meet the recommendations for seafood or nuts, seeds, and soy products. When consuming meat and poultry choices, choose lean or low-fat options like 93% lean ground beef, pork loin and skinless chicken breasts to reduce your intake of unhealthy saturated fats.

It’s important to vary your protein foods throughout the week to get more of the different nutrients your body needs. Proteins function as building blocks for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. They are also building blocks for enzymes, hormones, and vitamins.

The Dairy Group includes milk, yogurt, cheese, lactose-free milk and fortified soy milk, and yogurt. Processed foods made from milk that have little calcium and a high fat content like cream cheese, sour cream, cream and butter are NOT part of the dairy group. When consuming dairy items, choose low-fat or fat-free options to get the nutrients you need without the extra calories.

Eating or drinking dairy products offer nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, vitamins (D, A, B12), potassium and protein that are vital for the health and maintenance of the body. In particular, calcium and vitamin D are essential nutrients at every age to promote and improve bone health and strength.

The amount you should eat in each food group depends on your age, sex, height, weight and physical activity. This amount can also depend on whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Find the right amount for you by using the personalized calculation tool: MyPlate Plan

Interested in learning more? Click here to subscribe to NTFB’s Spade & Spoon Newsletter for regular garden and nutrition updates.

This material was funded by the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP. This institution is an equal opportunity provider.