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  • By Jeannette Shupp

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:

Remember: Small changes can have a big impact on health


Eat up to 10 ounces (28 g) per day from this group—at least half of your total grains should be whole grains.

Helpful hints...

  • 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


Eat at least 1 to 4 cups (182 to 728 g) of dark-green and orange vegetables.

Helpful hints...

  • 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


Eat up to 2 1/2 cups (455 g) of fruits per day.

Helpful hints...

  • When you have a choice, for added fiber and less sugar, 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 (546 g) of fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk per day, or eat an equivalent amount of dairy foods or other calcium-rich foods.

Helpful hints...

  • 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.

Helpful hints...

  • 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


Limit oils to 11 teaspoons (54 ml) of fats per day.

Helpful hints...

  • 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: Though high in saturated fat, coconut oil is stable enough to resist the heat-induced damage that can make otherwise healthful vegetable oils form unhealthy free radicals; peanut and olive oils are also good for cooking

Adding extra calories—and taking them off

The My Pyramid allows for extra calories to satisfy your daily food group requirements as you choose.

Helpful hints...

  • 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.

This article references the United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPyramid Food Guidance System. Visit www.mypyramid.gov for more information.

Jeannette Shupp

Jeannette Shupp is a freelance writer and new mom who is determined to make sure she and her family follow the MyPyramid guidelines.

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