With new diets developed and promoted every year, it is difficult to discern what foods are included in a well-rounded meal. The United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate program aims to educate citizens not only about essential foods, but also proportion sizes for maintaining a healthy body. Broken down into food groups, this guide can help you determine what to eat in your well-rounded meal.
Protein. Every meal eaten should contain a good source of protein, whether from animals or alternative protein sources. The USDA considers poultry, seafoods, meats, beans and soy products, nuts and seeds as protein sources and recommends that women get 5 to 5.5 ounces starting at age 19, while men should get 5.5 to 6.5 ounces depending on their age range. Rather than fried proteins, focus on lean meats grilled or broiled in healthy oils like extra virgin olive oil.
Vegetables and fruits. Fruits and vegetables are an integral part of a well-rounded meal. The USDA recommends that half of your plate each meal contain a variety of fruits and vegetables to help you get enough fiber and other essential nutrients throughout your day. Focus on eating fresh fruits and vegetables or 100 percent juice, rather than canned products, which can contain added sodium.
Grains. The amount of grains recommended by the USDA varies based on age and gender. Children aged 2 to 3 should get 3 ounces while men 19 to 25 should consume about 8 ounces per day. Women of the same age are recommended 6 ounces. The one constant throughout is that half of grains consumed daily should be whole grains. This ensures that you will get nutritional benefits, including fiber and riboflavin, that are usually stripped out of refined grains. Examples of refined grains are white bread, pasta and white rice.
Dairy. The MyPlate program specifically considers milk and dairy products that retain their original calcium content as part of the dairy food group. Men and women should get at least 3 cups of dairy per day starting at age 9 to get the recommended levels of essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. Low-fat dairy products are better for you, so focus on a healthy mix of yogurts, cheeses and milk instead of cream cheese or fully-loaded ice creams.
Oils. Also important, but not specified on the MyPlate diagram, are oils. The USDA lists oils as important to any well-rounded meal, but some oils are better than others for cooking or topping dishes. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are beneficial for good health, so choose olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil or other oils made from plants. Use saturated fats, such as beef tallow, hydrogenated oils, butter and milkfat, sparingly.