From Pyramid to Plate: Defining A Healthy Diet

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When it comes to preparing a diet program for life, you can reach out for help. While online weight loss programs, weight loss clinics and various books can help, you can also turn to the government for simple and fast answers. They have always provided a means of accessing nutritional and dietary information. Up until 2010, the information of what you should and need to eat and the size of portions was illustrated by a pyramid. Today, the image has changed. It is now a plate.

Pyramid is replaced by a Plate

The pyramid was, as is reflective in its name, a pyramid divided into sections of nutritional needs. While the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans1  remains in place, instead of a pyramid, the new shape resembles a plate, with a small circle representing a glass beside it. The new graphic display is called MyPlate2.The divisions of the plate are simple and easily understood. It makes accessing and understanding what food groups should comprise a daily meal easy.

Instead of divisions along a pyramid in descending order, the plate is clearly split along food choice lines. The new icon splits the plate into 4 main portions:

  • Fruits
  •  Vegetables
  • Grains
  • Proteins

Dairy is a small section off to the side in what is imagined to be a glass or cup. Colors indicate that fruits and vegetables take up half of the plate. Grains occupy about half of the remaining plate. The rest is given over to protein.

Balancing Calories and nutrients

Ensuring you take in enough calories and nutrients can be a real balancing act. It is important to count calories, but you also need to make sure your body consumes enough of the right kind of nutrients. Make sure what you eat is not made up of empty calories. These are calories with little or no nutritional value at all. Classic examples are chips and pop.

Another way to ensure you have a balance of calories and nutrients is to follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Follow this program up with exercise. Exercise is an essential component of any weight loss plan. It ensures that the amount of calories you take in is balanced by the amount that is expended in energy output.

Meal Planning

One important aspect of maintaining a healthy weight and sticking to your weight loss program is meal planning. The USDA MyPlate program helps you to understand what you need to have on your plate. It lets you know the positive advantages of keeping portions/servings low. It also provides you with clear pictures of what food groups you need to eat in what amounts.

Another important part of meal planning involves knowing how to design a meal. You need to make sure you have the right amount of calories, proteins, fats and sugars. You also must make sure that the food on the plate reflects individual needs. There are certain foods you cannot give diabetics or those with heart conditions no matter how healthy they may be. Individuals also suffer from food allergies and such things as lactose intolerance.

Meal planning may pose some problems initially, but if you understand what the body needs, as opposed to what it craves, and are willing to try new food ideas, you can succeed. Remember, making food choices that are nutritious and disease-fighting does not mean your meals will not have taste and zest. It simply means, you need to readjust your mind set and avoid the American preference for large portions and fatty, sugary, fast foods.

Low Calorie and Healthy Substitutions for Fat and Sugar

The major culprit in the weighty issue facing Americans is not just eating too much3. While the size of the servings is not healthy, fault also lies with the food choices. If you want to follow a healthy weight loss plan, you need to look at healthy, low calorie substitutions for the most popular food in an American diet – those containing plenty of unsaturated and trans fats and sugar. Packaged and fast food is full of fats and sugars.

It is easy enough to avoid fast food and over-packaged sugar filled items. Yet, at times, you want that little bit of sweetness or crave that extra bit of fat. Moreover, you may want and even need some products that contain fat or sugar. The answer to your dilemma is substitution.

Dairy is a classic example where substitutions are possible. Leave high fat dairy products on the shelf. Replace them, instead with low or no-fat dairy products. While you can also use a sugar substitute for baking, cooking or for sweetening certain food and drink, read first about any possible side-effects or potential health issues4. There are several on the market.

While the recommendation is to reduce the amount of fat, research seems to be at odds about the effect of reduction or even replacement on a weight loss program. Nevertheless, the American Heart Association recommends Americans reduce the amount of fat in their diet5.  Instead of cooking and frying with fat, you can choose to boil or replace the fat or butter with low-fat oils. There are also other fat substitutes some recommend apple sauce, but there are commercial substitutes for consideration.


The USDA Food Pyramid has been replaced with MyPlate, a highly readable icon. If you integrate its message and information into such things as meal planning, you will be able to bring about healthy changes in your diet. Be sure you balance nutrients and calories in relation to your lifestyle. If sugar and fat make up a significant portion of your diet, consider replacing them with healthy substitutes. Work with the FDA MyPlate and 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to help your weight loss program move in the direction of success.


1 USDA (2011) Dietary Guidelines. Retrieved from US Department of Agriculture at: www.choosemyplate.gov/guidelines/index.html

2 USDA (2011). Choose MyPlate. Retrieved from US Department of Agriculture at: www.choosemyplate.gov/

3 Nielsen, S.J. and Popkin, B.M. (2003). Patterns and Trends in Food Portion Sizes, 1977-1998. Journal of the American Medical Association. 289(4):450-453.

4 Mitchell, Helen (2006). Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

5 Wylie-Rosett, J. (2002). Fat Substitutes and Health: An Advisory from the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association. Journal of the American Heart Association. 105: 2800-2804.


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