From Pyramid to Plate: The Basics of a Balanced Diet

If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember the food pyramid, a triangular-shaped chart that was the go-to guide for healthy eating starting in the late 1970s. The layout went through several iterations, but over the years, nutritionists continued to point out the problems with the pyramid’s generalized guidelines. To help Americans make healthier choices, the USDA has since replaced the pyramid with a program called “My Plate,” which has been in use since 2011 and provides more specific guidance based on age, weight, height, gender, and level of physical activity. Although daily recommendations vary when these factors are considered, the general structure of a balanced diet consists of five main groups:

1. Fruits. All fresh, frozen, canned, dehydrated, whole, cut-up, pureed, and cooked fruits as well as 100% fruit juices count in this group. The USDA recommends consuming from ½ cup to 2 cups of fruit each day depending on the person for more potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, and folate.

2. Vegetables. All raw, cooked, fresh, frozen, canned, dehydrated, whole, cut-up, or mashed vegetables, as well as 100% vegetable juices, count in this group, and within the group, vegetables are organized into five subgroups based on their nutrient content: dark green; red and orange; beans, peas, and lentils; starchy; and other vegetables. The USDA recommends consuming from ⅔ cup to 3 ½ cups each day depending on the person while varying the subgroups for more potassium, dietary fiber, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin C.

3. Grains. Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain counts in this group, and within the group, grains are divided into two subgroups: whole grains and refined grains. The USDA recommends eating 1 ¾ ounces to 9 ounces of grains depending on the person, with at least 50% being whole grains, for more complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, B vitamins, and minerals.

4. Proteins. All meat, seafood, eggs, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy products count in this group. The USDA recommends eating from 2 ounces to 6 ½ ounces of lean or low-fat proteins each day depending on the person for more protein, B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc, and magnesium.

5. Dairy. Milk, yogurt, cheese, lactose-free milk, and fortified soy milk and yogurt count in this group; foods made from milk that have little calcium and high-fat content, such as cream cheese, sour cream, cream, and butter, do not count. The USDA recommends consuming from 1 ⅔ cups to 3 cups of dairy depending on the person for more calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B12, protein, potassium, zinc, choline, magnesium, and selenium.

To read the USDA’s specific recommendations for your own diet, visit myplate.gov or download the My Plate app to your smartphone!

This article was originally published in the January/February 2022 issue of our bi-monthly newsletter, The Morsel. If you’d like to read more stories like this one and stay up to date on the latest co-op news and events, pick up a print copy in-store on your next grocery run or find more news on our website here.

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