Introducing MyPlate

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced something big last week: They ditched the Food Guide Pyramid and welcomed MyPlate. If you even remember the Food Pyramid, you might vaguely recall that it was first introduced in 1992, and then revised in 2005. And if you’re like most people, you probably found the pyramid to be rather unhelpful, to say the least. Even dietitians didn’t have a whole lot of positive things to say about the pyramid.


Robert Post, deputy director for the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, and his team spent two years working on the plate and its Web site. It was unveiled last Thursday and presented by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Reasons Why the Plate Makes Sense
Most Americans eat from a plate. Granted, some of us eat out of bowls or out of plastic containers, or out of the box, but how many of you ever ate from a pyramid? Plates are pretty standard and most people can relate to them.

Tip: Use a 9-inch plate if you’re interested in controlling your weight (and your blood glucose). Many plates these days are about 12 inches in diameter,which means you’re likely to fill your plate with more food, which means more calories consumed, which means weight gain, which means…you get the point.

It’s easy. The 2005 food pyramid was a little complicated. All those vertical stripes in different colors. What did they mean? Sure, they were a guide to help consumers figure out how much of a particular food group to eat, but that somehow backfired. At least the original food pyramid was divided up into layers, but again, it left more than a few people scratching their heads as to what those layers really meant.

Tip: If you’re new to diabetes or meal planning, or just looking for a simple way to think about food, the plate may work for you.

It’s balanced. Take a look at the new plate if you haven’t done so already. Note that it’s divided into four sections: vegetables, fruits, grains, and protein. On the side is dairy. No longer are fat and sugar represented. Now, you may or may not agree with the proportions of the plate, and some of you may not drink milk or eat meat, for example, but it’s hard to refute that the food groups aren’t represented. In fact, the sections of the plate aren’t necessarily supposed to be proportional because everyone is different in terms of what their nutritional needs are. Keep in mind that the plate is a general guideline to help get you started.

Plate Basics
MyPlate incorporates concepts from the new 2010 Dietary Guidelines (thank goodness), which are as follows:

Balancing calories
• Enjoy your food, but eat less.
• Avoid oversized portions.

Tip: You don’t necessarily have to count calories. Using an average-sized plate (and not heaping portions too high, except maybe for vegetables) can help you keep your portions and calories in check. If you want more guidance and don’t already have a meal plan, can provide you with an eating plan based on your age, sex, weight, height, and activity level.

Foods to increase
• Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
• Make at least half your grains whole grains.
• Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Tip: Yes, fruits, grains, and milk (or yogurt) are carbohydrate, and when you have diabetes, portions of these foods need to be controlled. But you don’t have to cut them out. Fresh fruit, a lot of vegetables, and whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread can definitely be part of a diabetes eating plan. Also, if you think milk or yogurt is too high in carbohydrate, try Greek-style yogurt, which contains more protein and less carbohydrate than regular yogurt.

Foods to reduce
• Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals — and choose the foods with lower numbers.
• Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

Tip: The new Dietary Guidelines advise people to consume no more than 2300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day, but if you are 51 years old or older, are African American, and/or have high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease, your goal is no more than 1500 mg of sodium per day. Keeping your sodium intake that low is no small feat, but it can be done. It will mean becoming an expert label reader and choosing more fresh, less processed foods. As far as those sugary drinks go, well, we’ve talked about those before. Shy away from them and go for water, seltzer water, or tea.

I’m interested in hearing what you think of MyPlate (good and bad!), and if you do like it, how (or if) you plan to use it as part of your diabetes management.

Learn more about the health and medical experts who who provide you with the cutting-edge resources, tools, news, and more on Diabetes Self-Management.
About Our Experts >>

  • kalieris

    I like it. My doctor actually used something similar 2 years ago when I was first diagnosed as a basic, minimally-crazy-making first stab at a meal plan. I eat low carb now, so have had to modify the graphic a little bit (as well as using a salad plate instead of a dinner plate for the most part), but it’s still a really practical way to visualize how I need to construct my meals. That, plus getting a good set of measuring cups and measuring spoons (and actually using them every day, every time I make my meals) has helped me get my eating in better check.

  • Bob Fenton

    No, this is not an aah ha moment, it is an ooh no moment. Over 25 percent whole grains will do nothing to curb the obesity increase in the USA. The whole grains used in so much of our food today is the cause of the obesity emidemic.

    We need to go back before 1960 and reinstate the fats in our diet and remove the carbohydrates from grains. I am actually starting to lose weight now that I have my fat intake above 60% and have eliminated most of the grains. I will not say that this will work for everyone, but it is for me.

    We need the USDA to get out of nutrition and leave the field for those that do not have vested interests and lobbies to contend with.

  • Deb

    I don’t like it. I wonder if the Plate Method is copyright so they had to come up with a different graphic that makes no sense with their description of it. I tried and discovered it had the same drawbacks as Based on sex and age they give you a single recommendation. You could follow this plan using nothing but processed foods. Real healthy. And the accompanying information is even sparser than what they used to say.
    At least the Plate Method graphic makes sense and makes it easy to plan your meals. I’ve been using it for a few years now and it’s been useful even when I had to change the balance of my diet after I had my gallbladder out.
    I’m old enough to remember the Seven Basic Food groups from the 50s – then the Four, then the original pyramid, then MyPyramid (the worst), then MyPlate. The Plate Method is so much better and so much better adapted to diabetes.

  • Mitch Mans

    I have taken the Department of Agriculture Foods database and developed a Personal Diabetic Carb Counting Procedure which I use to provide an effective meal, with an exact carb count and using an adjustable ratio, I am able to calculate my isulin requirements for each meal.

  • acampbell

    Thanks for sharing, kalieris. Good to hear that the plate is working for you!

  • acampbell

    Hi Bob,

    I’m glad you’ve found a meal planning approach that works for you. Everyone is different. I’m not sure I agree with you that whole grains are responsible for causing the obesity epidemic. The reality is that there is no single factor responsible for obesity. Rather, obesity can stem from a number of factors such as overeating, physical inactivity, certain medical conditions, genetics, and environmental factors — or a combination. And there are plenty of thin and average weight people who eat whole grains. But, as you say, the key is finding a treatment approach that is individualized and that one can stay with long term.

  • jim snell

    Great – a more logical approach and visually orientated. Humans are visually orientated except for a few very bright folks.

    When starting out; it is a good idea to check calories versus portion size so one gets a good visual impression of calories per size.

    After that, one does not need to agressively count calories. I set my self up with 1200 calorie diet and have in my mind portions of food that make that up and it seems to work.

    The total calorie count may seem low but with a leaky liver in make sugar mode all the time, this approach is helpful. And I have metformin dose of 500 mg with every meal and 2 at midnight triming the liver glucose release back. This enabled me to lose weight.

    I also agree with the over agressive chase to swap carbohydrates in to replace fat is making matters worse. They fatten up cattle in feed lots on grain/corn. That should be simple enough message to the doubters.

    Before I had liver caged and am BG was 238+ every morning, the last thing I needed was grains/carbohydrates in am. ABsolutely stupid. Here is BG swamped out, any available insulin swamped out and here one should eat grains in am.

  • Richard M. Smith

    The MyPlate recommendations aren’t for people with diabetes because the carbohydrates are too high.

    See the MyPlate FAQ:

    If I have diabetes, celiac sprue (gluten intolerance), food allergies, gastric bypass surgery, etc., how can I modify the USDA Food Patterns to fit my specific needs?

    The USDA Food Patterns, based on The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, are applicable to healthy people over the age of two years. They do not take into account diseases or disorders that require therapeutic diets. For more information on a specific condition or therapeutic diet, please visit our Related Links page for government websites such as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

  • acampbell

    Hi Richard,

    As you included in your posting, the new plate and dietary guidelines are intended to address the needs of healthy people. However, the plate can be adapted to meet specific dietary needs and concerns, but this is best done with the help and guidance of a dietitian.