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43. How to Use MyPyramid

You now know to eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods to be healthy, and that MyPyramid helps you select a diverse group of foods, but you may be wondering how much from each food group you, personally, should be eating.

The MyPyramid interactive website at www.mypyramid.gov  will give you the exact numbers of servings to eat from each food group based on your daily calorie needs.

Recall that your calorie needs (your EER) are based upon your age and gender (two factors beyond your control) and your activity level (a factor you can control).

As you just read, the more active you are, the more calories you burn to fuel your activities, and the more calories you can (and need to) consume in foods. At the website, you will enter your age, gender, and activity level. Based on this information, your daily calorie needs will be determined and your personalized eating plan, specifying the exact number of servings from each of the MyPyramid food groups, will be provided. With this information, you can plan your meals and snacks for the day. Let’s use to obtain your MyPyramid recommendations.

The first step in creating your personalized MyPyramid is to figure out how many calories you should be eating daily. To do this, you need to find out how active you are. If you participate in activities such as water aerobics, play doubles tennis, enjoy ballroom dancing, garden at home, or walk briskly, you are likely moderately active. You could consider yourself vigorously active if, for example, you race-walk, jog, run, swim laps, play singles tennis, or bicycle 10 km per hour or faster. Based on these examples, are you moderately or vigorously active? You can see the number of calories you need based on your activity level, age, and gender. When you know the number of calories you need daily, will tell you how many servings from each food group you should consume to healthfully obtain those calories. This is the equivalent of your personalized MyPyramid.

Let’s say that you are a moderately active female who needs 2,000 calories daily. To healthfully meet this level, you should consume:

- 6 servings from the grains group

- 2 1 ⁄ 2 cups of dark green, orange, starchy, and other vegetables, and some legumes

- 2 cups of fruits

- 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk and yogurt

- 5 1 ⁄ 2 ounces of lean meat, poultry, and fish or the equivalent in meat alternatives such as beans

- You should also add 6 teaspoons (3 tablespoons) of vegetable oils to your diet over the course of the day.

If you are having difficulty figuring out what 1 cup of vegetables, 3 ounces of meat, or 1 tablespoon of salad dressing provides an easy way to eyeball your serving sizes. Keep in mind that if you consistently eat oversized portions that are larger than those suggested in MyPyramid, you  will  consume  too  many  calories  and  may gain weight. If all of your food selections are low in fat and added sugar, the above menu will provide a total of about 1,740 calories. This means that, after meeting your nutrient requirements, you have about 260 of your 2,000 calories left. This is your discretionary calorie allowance. You can “spend” these calories on extra servings of foods such as grains, fruits, and/or vegetables, or on occasion as an added fat, sweet, or dessert. Unfortunately, people often overestimate their discretionary calorie allowance. The calorie levels and distribution of food groups in MyPyramid are calculated using the leanest food choices with no added sugar. So  if  you  pour  whole  milk  (high  in  fat)  over  your  sweetened  cereal (added sugar) instead of using skim milk (fat free) to drench your shredded wheat (no added sugar), the extra fat and sugar have used up some of your discretionary calories. These discretionary calories can be used up quickly, depending on the foods you choose. Let’s now use these recommended amounts of servings from each food group and plan a 2,000-calorie menu.

Servings from the various food groups can create well-balanced meals and snacks throughout the day. Although this particular menu is balanced and the foods are nutrient dense, it is unlikely that every day will be this ideal. The good news is that your nutrient needs are averaged over several days, or a week, of eating. If one day you eat insufficient servings of one food group or a specific nutrient, you can make up for it the next day. For example, let’s say that you don’t eat enough fruit one day but do eat an extra serving of grains. The next day you can adjust your diet by cutting back on your grain servings and adding an extra serving of fruit.

If the foods at your meals are sometimes mixed dishes that contain a combination of foods, such as pizza, then they probably contribute servings to more than one food group. Now that you know what constitutes a healthy diet, the next step is to go food shopping. As you shop, you’ll want to make sure you know the nutrient and calorie contents of the foods you buy. The food label will give   you   this   information,   and more.

The Take-Home Message:

MyPyramid is a food guidance system developed by the USDA. It is a personalized educational tool that helps you choose a well-balanced diet from all the food groups to meet your nutrient needs. It emphasizes daily physical activity, a varied diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean dairy products, and only a moderate amount of foods high in solid fats and added sugar. MyPyramid encourages you to make gradual, small changes in your diet and lifestyle. The concepts of nutrient density and energy density refer to the amount of nutrients per bite of food and the number of calories per gram of food. You want to consume nutrient-dense foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean dairy products, but limit energy-dense foods like fried foods and sweets. Your discretionary calorie allowance is the amount of calories left over once you’ve consumed enough foods to meet your nutrient needs.

Focus on fruits. Eat a variety of fruits-whether fresh, frozen, canned, or dried-rather than fruit juice for most of your fruit choices. For a 2,000-calorie diet, you will need 2 cups of fruit each day (for example, 1 small banana, 1 large orange, and 1/4 cup of dried apricots or peaches).

Know the limits on fats, salt, and sugars. Read the Nutrition Facts label on foods. Look for foods low in saturated fats and transfats. Choose and prepare foods and beverages with little salt (sodium) and/or added sugars (caloric sweeteners).

Vary your veggies. Eat more dark green veggies, such as broccoli, kale, and other dark leafy greens; orange veggies, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and winter squash; and beans and peas, such as pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, split peas, and lentils.

Get your calcium-rich foods. Get 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free milk-or an equivalent amount of low-fat yogurt and/or low-fat cheese (11/2 ounces of cheese equals 1 cup of milk)-every day. For kids aged 2 to 8, its 2 cups of milk. If you don’t or can’t consume milk, choose lactose-free milk products and/or calcium-fortified foods and beverages.

Go lean with protein. Choose lean meats and poultry. Bake it, broil it, or grill it. And vary your protein choices-with more fish, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds.

Make half your grains whole. Eat at least 3 ounces of whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice, or pasta every day. One ounce is about 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of breakfast cereal, or 1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta. Look to see that grains such as wheat, rice, oats, or corn are referred to as “whole” in the list of ingredients.

Discretionary calorie allowance - Calories left over in the diet once all nutrients needs have been met from the basic food groups.

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