How to Stick to the USDA’s Healthy Eating Guidelines
The MyPyramid plan, the most recent dietary guidelines developed by the US Department of Agriculture, gives some great recommendations—but how do you fit them into real life? To help you meet the MyPyramid’s daily food group requirements with healthy and nutritious foods, follow these simple, helpful hints:
Grains: Eat up to 10 ounces (280 g) per day from this group—at least half of your total grains should be whole grains.
- Instead of regular pasta, choose 100% whole wheat pasta.
- Choose whole wheat or whole-grain breads for your sandwiches.
- Skip white rice and go for brown.
Vegetables: Eat at least 1 to 4 cups (182 to 728 g) of dark-green and orange vegetables.
- Add more veggies—lettuce, tomato, and more—when ordering a sandwich.
- If you don’t have time for a lot of prep at night, chop enough vegetables for several salads and keep for up to three days in an airtight container in the fridge (keep avocado and tomatoes separate as these break down a little faster). When really pressed for time, take advantage of your grocers’ salad bars by buying a few favorite ingredients and simply adding the greens at home.
- Experiment with steaming vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower, beets, and other savory options; dress up side dishes with toasted almonds or sesame seeds so they take a more central role.
Fruits: Eat up to 2 1/2 cups (455 g) of fruits per day.
- When you have a choice, for added fiber, choose fresh fruit over juice.
- Always have fresh fruit on hand—go for seasonal selections for a cost-effective and tasty option
- Try adding a single fruit such as grapefruit, avocado, mango, apple, or pear to your regular crunchy green salad
Milk & dairy: Drink up to 3 cups (710 ml) of fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk per day, or eat an equivalent amount of dairy foods or other calcium-rich foods.
- Snack on low-fat yogurt or substitute plain yogurt for sour cream.
- Although made from milk, eat only small amounts of butter, cream cheese, and cream since they contain little or no calcium and are high in fat.
- Reminder: When aiming for optimal calcium intake don’t forget other calcium-rich foods, such as calcium-fortified soy products and calcium-fortified orange juice.
Meat & beans: Eat up to 7 ounces (198 g) per day of lean protein from sources like meat, poultry, and legumes.
- Keep portion size in mind when you prepare fattier protein sources, such as meat and poultry.
- Add variety to your diet by choosing fish, nuts, or beans as alternatives to meat and poultry.
- For some heart-healthy, low-fat options, try some of the many available tofu and tempeh meat-substitutes, such as healthy morning sausage and hot dog substitutes.
Oils: Limit oils to 11 teaspoons (54 ml) per day.
- Choose healthy fats from fish, nuts, and vegetable oils—great options are avocados, nut butters, or olives.
- Avoid foods high in saturated and trans fats, such as mayonnaise, certain salad dressings, and butter.
- Note: For cooking, use oils that contain mostly monounsaturated and saturated fats, which are stable enough to resist the heat-induced damage that can make otherwise healthful vegetable oils form unhealthy free radicals. Good oils for cooking are coconut, peanut, and olive oil.
Extra calories: The MyPyramid allows for extra calories to satisfy your daily food group requirements as you choose.
- Choose foods and beverages with little added sweeteners or salt.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Remember that it is important to balance calorie intake with calories expended, so shoot for some daily exercise: take the stairs, park the car farther away, or take a walk after lunch.
Healthy eating can be easy—even fun. Use tips like these to help you remember how to make small changes that can have a big impact on health. Also look for in-store programs, such as the Take a Peak program that has been launched in several states, designed to support healthy eating choices. Finally, cover your nutritional bases with a good multivitamin, and note when your food choices indicate that you may not be getting enough of something that can be taken as a supplement in a pinch.
This article references the United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPyramid Food Guidance System. Visit www.mypyramid.gov for more information.
January 28, 2010
Jeannette Shupp is a freelance writer who covers a variety of topics, including health, food, lifestyle, and more. She also runs her own marketing and communications firm, Joyful Girl Communications, which specializes in helping small, local businesses with public relations, advertising, event planning, and more. Ms. Shupp received her bachelor's degree in Communications from West Chester University. She lives with her family in Portland, OR.
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