MyPlate or Mediterranean meal plan - What is it?

MyPlate or Mediterranean meal plan – What is it?

Last week I talked about how a simple saying can be used to help your eating habits. It was  “A little bit of naughty and a lot of nice.” It sums up what a healthy diet should be. Today I want to go further and show how this advice differs from other diets and to review a sample day’s menu that complies with MyPlate or the Mediterranean eating plan, two diets that meet the saying in spades.

Eating Plan vs Diet

These eating plans are not like the nutrition articles we see in the press. The Mediterranean diet and MyPlate have been around for years; they have evolved with the science but mostly stayed constant.

Nutrition articles and fad diets on the other hand tend to be “eat this and not that” eating plans that involve current fashionable foods or nutrients. They change with the season. We’ve had grapefruit, watermelon, cabbage soup, protein diets; the Paleo diet and coconut oil are currently popular.

These nutrition articles and diets sometimes start with a science finding but they always make a big assumption, namely that the people studied are healthy because they eat this one thing or because they omit this one thing from their diet. This assumes that none of the other foods they eat or their exercise and stress level have any effect on their health – not reasonable assumptions.

Food Intake Studies

Science based nutrition studies are done with food intake studies or food diaries. This is one of the only ways to measure how diet effects health without putting people in a locked facility and feeding them only certain foods for years. Unfortunately these food diaries or food frequency questionnaires are rough tools with many errors. We lose a lot of important details because they don’t get recorded, for instance:

  • Tomato: homegrown or picked green?
  • Coffee: plain or sweetened with lots of sugar?
  • Chicken: with skin or without?
  • Rice: 1/2 cup or 2 cups?
  • Snacks: often not recorded

To help minimize the effect of these errors Dietitians and Nutrition Professionals like to group foods with similar nutritional value together and just look at the group. You get more data points and errors can average out.

Historically Healthy Diets

Such food group studies have been conducted in several areas of the world were people live to a healthy old age. Some of those areas were around the Mediterranean and that data was the basis for the Mediterranean diet.

But there are other areas such as an islands off Japan, a community in California and one in Costa Rica were people also live to a healthy old age. They eat different foods than those found around the Mediterranean. Some are vegetarians, some don’t use olive oil, and some don’t use milk products.

Still, all these diets look similar when you step back and look at food groups, not particular foods. All these health promoting diets include lots of legumes, be it soy, beans, peas or lentils, as well as other vegetables and whole grains. They are distinct in that they contain only a small amount of added sugar, red meat or processed foods.

There are hundreds and hundreds of nutrients in foods, many of which are important to good health, and many that we have yet to identify. Fortunately food groups tend to have similar nutrients, both known and unknown. If you eat a variety of foods in a food group it should be supply you with all the nutrients you need.


The USDA’s MyPlate diet plan is based on the data from the food groups that were eaten by active healthy centenarians. It is similar to the Mediterranean eating style but it is more detailed in that it gives amounts.

Here is the serving on a 2,000 calorie dietHere are the food groups we use in the US. Foods in each category provide similar nutrition. This example assumes a 2,000 cal diet.

  • Dairy – 3 servings a day
  • Protein – 5 ½ oz a day (½ cup legumes = 1 oz)
    • Fish – 20% of protein should be fish
    • Nuts – 10% of protein should be nuts
  • Grains – 6 servings a day
    • whole grain – 50% include grain fiber
  • Fruit – 4 servings a day
    • Whole fruit – 75% include fruit fiber
  • Vegetables – 5 servings a day
    • Dark green vegetables – at least 3 servings a week
    • Red and orange vegetables – at least 11 servings a week
    • Legumes or pulses – at least 3 servings a week
    • Starchy vegetables – at least 10 servings a week
  • Oil – 1 Tablespoon
  • Treats – 250 calories

Looking at the MyPlate picture and the list to the left you can see that the food pyramid has gotten much more detailed and focused on increasing the amount of vegetables and fiber in the diet. The “five a day of fruits and vegetables” has turned into “nine a day”!

A serving is generally ½ cup, or 1 oz for meat, cheese and grains. It’s 1 cup for leafy salads and dairy/soy beverages.

Changes from the Food Pyramid

Before the Millennium Americans were meeting their servings of vegetables mostly through french fries and iceberg lettuce. The pyramid wrongly assumed people were eating a variety of vegetables and was lambasted for that assumption. Now MyPlate spells everything out in great detail!

To ensure more fiber MyPlate recommends limiting refined grains, fruit juice, and vegetable juices, as they have been stripped of their  fiber. Smoothies and pureed soups are fine choices as their fiber has been chopped but not removed.

vitamin water = 6 sugar cubes in 20 oz

2½ sugar cubes in a cup – 6 cubes in the bottle

Another major recommendation is to limit added sugar to less than 10% of calories or 10-12 tsp of sugar for most of us. Even healthy looking beverages like vitamin water can be loaded with sugar. See my post on sugar in drinks for more information. When you look at a food label 5g sugar is the same as a teaspoon of sugar.

Milk is not consumed in some parts of the world, instead people find their protein and calcium in tofu and fortified soy milk. Soy that is processed with calcium is similar to milk, and is therefore included under the dairy grouping.

Protein is not just meat, fish and eggs. It includes nuts, legumes and tofu. A half cup of legumes can count as either a serving of vegetables or a serving of meat. Tofu is either a serving of dairy or protein, you pick where you need it!

Sample Menu Plan

Here is a sample menu for a 2,000 calorie diet using MyPlate. This plan was done to give you an idea of what a day’s diet might look like.


  • 1/2 cup orange juice – 1 fruit, juice
  • 1 cup milk – 1 milk
  • 1/2 cup blueberries – 1 fruit
  • 1 cup oatmeal – 2 whole grain
  • coffee with 1 tsp sugar – 1 sugar allowance


  • 2 cups of green salad – 2 green leafy vegetables
  • 1/2 cup carrot sticks – 1 orange vegetable
  • 1 cup soy milk – 1 dairy
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter- 1 meat
  • 2 tsp jelly – 2 sugar allowance
  • 2 slices whole grain bread – 2 grain
  • 1 large apple – 2 fruit


  • 1/2 can soda -4 sugar allowance


  • 4-5 oz salmon filet
  • 1 cup rice – 2 servings refined grains
  • 1/2 cup cooked yams – 1 orange vegetable
  • 1/2 cup broccoli – 1 leafy green vegetables
  • 1/2 cup black beans – 1 legume vegetable
  • 1/2 cup ice cream – 1 milk – 3 sugar allowance

As you can see this is not the usual American diet. Both lunch and dinner feature mostly vegetables. And we can’t even fit in the whole can of soda without overshooting the sugar allowance.

I’m not suggesting you plan all you meals using this diet plan. This is intended for institutional meal planning. What you can do is look at how it differs from the American diet and try to:

  • Add more vegetables to the diet
  • Select more foods that have not been processed to remove their fiber
  • Try for different forms of protein, not just red meat.
  • Limit sweetened beverages and other sweets

What are you thinking of doing to make your diet a little healthier?