When the government released the new MyPlate image this summer, the message seemed simple enough.
Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, make one-quarter of it grains such as rice or pasta, and the rest should be protein-rich foods such as lean meat, poultry, seafood or eggs.
The main points are clear, but there's still a lot of confusion about some of the specifics, especially about how to eat more whole grains and what qualifies as a lean-protein food, says Elizabeth Ward, a registered dietitian in Boston, nutrition blogger at food.usatoday.com and author of a new book, MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better (Loughin Press, $15.95).
Here are some of her suggestions for meeting the MyPlate (choosemyplate.gov) recommendations as well as the federal dietary guidelines:
- Try to select protein-rich foods that deliver a lot of nutrients for the calories. Consider salmon, tuna, skinless chicken breast, turkey, pork tenderloin, beans and eggs, she says. Americans eat an average of 3 ounces of seafood a week, but adults should consume at least 8 ounces a week, so try to serve fish at least twice a week, Ward says. Don't skimp on the protein, because research shows that it helps you stay full longer and keeps hunger at bay, she says.
- Beef up your bean intake. Beans and peas, including kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lima beans, black-eyed peas, split peas and lentils, can be considered either a vegetable or a protein food, Ward says.
Generally, people who eat meat, poultry and fish regularly would count beans and peas as vegetables, Ward says. But vegetarians tend to count some of the beans and peas they eat as a protein food.
- Try new whole grains. Most people eat the same side dishes over and over and don't give new foods a try, she says. Half the grains you eat are supposed to be whole grains, Ward says.
Foods are considered whole grains when the following terms are listed first on the ingredient list: whole wheat, brown rice, bulgur, oatmeal, rolled oats, whole oats, whole-grain barley, wild rice, buckwheat, quinoa or millet, she says.
But don't be intimidated by those, she says. "There are some quick-cooking whole-grain products at the grocery store that are ready in minutes."
By Nanci Hellmich