MyPlate for older adults: Understanding USDA guidelines.

Virtual VillageIn 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture replaced the familiar food pyramid guidelines, which have been in place for 19 years, with MyPlate (PDF). The basic breakdown of MyPlate is: at each meal, you should be eating 30 percent vegetables, 30 percent grains, 20 percent fruits, 20 percent proteins, plus a small amount of dairy.

Within these guidelines, however, is a lot of room for error. So, here’s a handy guide to help you understand how MyPlate works for older adults.


Choose variety. There is more to the world of vegetables than iceberg lettuce and celery sticks. Dark green veggies pack the biggest punch in terms of omega-3s, so load up on broccoli, cooked greens and salads. But don’t neglect your other vegetables. Orange veggies like carrots and sweet potatoes are good for you, and bring a little sweetness to the plate. Many people aren’t aware that buying frozen vegetables is sometimes better for you than buying fresh, as frozen vegetables are always harvested and frozen at the peak of freshness. That means a wide variety of quality veggies are available all year-round. Also try increasing your legumes—pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, lentils, etc.


Fruits are good for you, but a little goes a long way because of the natural sugars they contain. Try a variety of fruits and berries. It’s fine to eat canned fruit, as long as it isn’t packaged in a sugary syrup. Be sure that you try to eat your fruit servings instead of drinking fruit juice, which can have added sugar and reduced fiber.


One of the ways the USDA recommends you think about grains is to “make half your grains whole.” In other words, half of your total grain intake each day should be whole-grain breads, cereals, rice or pasta. When choosing cereals, pick one with low sugar content and fortified with vitamin B12. Be adventurous and try some of the more unusual grains like quinoa, bulgur and barley.


Choose low-fat or lean meats, fish and poultry, and always bake, broil or grill, never fry or sauté in oil. Eggs, dried beans, tofu, nuts and seeds are also all good forms of protein.


Dairy is essential for calcium, but it can be loaded with fat and cholesterol. Pick low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheeses. Greek yogurt, for instance, is lower in fat and higher in protein than American-style yogurt. If you are unable to consume milk products, then try the lactose-free varieties or other foods and beverages that have been fortified with calcium.