Most everyone remembers the food pyramid from their grade school days (or even later in life), which was the visual cue issued by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for Americans to use when making decisions regarding their dietary habits and choices. Unfortunately, the food pyramid marketing programs were so successful that most Americans still have not transitioned to the new USDA health program, MyPlate, which replaced the food pyramid program back in 2011. The food industry is partially to blame since many of the food labels making dietary guideline product claims continue to cite old vocabulary from the food pyramid days, for example “servings” of fruits and vegetables instead of “cups” from the new and improved MyPlate plan. Understanding how to apply the MyPlate criteria to produce properly is one clear way to communicate healthy eating choices to our growing population.
What Is MyPlate?
MyPlate is a program established by the USDA that provides resources, tools and a message to consumers on how to achieve the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines Established for Americans. The program focuses on creating a healthy lifestyle through healthy food choices, with the primary tool being a visual – “MyPlate.” The design of our daily plate of food and beverages should consist of a certain ratio of foods, half of them being fruits and vegetables, in order to comply with healthy dietary guidelines. The guidelines are specific to age, gender and physical activity, but the design of a healthy meal remains the same regarding ratios, only the portion sizes may fluctuate. Counting cups of foods instead of servings of food is an approach the USDA felt Americans would better understand.
By designing a plate that contains half fruits and vegetables, it can be somewhat simple to meet the recommended daily intake of one to two cups of fruits a day, depending on age, sex and activity. Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts toward the required number of cups of fruit a day. Just keep in mind that one cup of fruit per USDA MyPlate is not equivalent to a measured cup necessarily. One cup of raw fruit or one cup of 100% fruit juice is, but if consuming dried fruit, one-half cup is equal to one cup of MyPlate fruit (which is less). Some fruits are hard to measure in cups, so one cup equivalents are provided in the MyPlate program such as 32 grapes, one large banana or two large plums. Fruit is considered nature’s candy, so tracking cups of fruit properly is important for meeting a daily caloric intake.
The USDA’s recommended daily intake of vegetables is 2x that of fruits, which means two to three cups per day and sub-group recommendations weekly. The key to a healthy vegetable intake is variety, with a selection of brightly colored vegetables and choices from the five sub-groups: dark greens, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas and other vegetables. Vegetables are eaten raw or cooked and either way, one MyPlate cup is equal to one cup of cooked or raw vegetables. This measurement should not include sauces or other ingredients which often eliminate any healthy aspects of the vegetable. One cup of 100% vegetable juice is also equal to one MyPlate cup, but leafy greens are tricky. It takes two cups of dark leafy greens to equal one cup of vegetables, so don’t be fooled by the sheer volume of your plate if it has lots of dark greens.
Due to being naturally low in fat and calories, containing no cholesterol and being a good source of dietary fiber, vitamins or minerals, produce is the perfect choice for the basis of a healthy MyPlate meal consisting of one to three cups of fruits and vegetables daily. When communicating this information on a product label, make sure the proper USDA dietary terms are being passed on to the consumer and that the food meets the claim requirements. If ever in doubt, Mérieux NutriSciences has registered dieticians on-hand in our Label Compliance and Nutrition Services team that can assist you in calculating MyPlate equivalents for an accurate and current Dietary Guideline claim.
Reach out today if you have questions about whether your labels are accurate!
Meet the Author
Labeling Compliance Manager, Mérieux NutriSciences
Dodi Hanes is the Labeling Compliance Manager at Mérieux Nutrisciences. Prior to joining Mérieux in 2017, Dodi was a Regulatory Compliance Manager for a leading private label beverage manufacturer in the southeast. She holds a B.S. in Chemistry from Northland College and has worked in the quality and regulatory field for pharmaceutical, medical device and food manufacturers. When not at work, Dodi enjoys life with her family, writing tall tales and spending time outdoors camping and hiking.