By Kathy Cunningham

In June 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture replaced the Food Pyramid with a new guide called MyPlate. It is an easy-to-understand visual cue that helps consumers adopt healthy eating habits consistent with the U.S. Government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines.

MyPlate is divided into four sections: fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins, as well as a glass representing dairy products. It shows consumers how they can incorporate the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines into every meal.

As part of this year’s Nutrition Month, however, the Commission is featuring not only MyPlate but also an optimized version called the Healthy Eating Plate.

The Healthy Eating Plate was created by experts at the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. In addition to showing the right serving sizes for each major food group, it points consumers to the healthiest choices within each section.

For example, The Healthy Eating Plate’s protein portion encourages people to eat lean meats like fish and chicken while limiting red meats and avoiding processed meats. The USDA’s MyPlate, in contrast, solely says how much protein to eat without specifying what types are good for you.

The Healthy Eating Plate also adds a glass bottle as a reminder to use healthy oils like canola and olive oil. A glass of water replaces the USDA’s dairy portion.

And what about that figure scampering across the bottom of the placemat? It’s a reminder that staying active is half of the secret to weight control and a healthy lifestyle. The other half is eating a healthy diet with modest portions.

From the nutrition perspective, the best thing that you can do to eat healthy is increasing your consumption of plant-based foods that are low in calories and nutrient dense, increase the amount of whole grains, choose healthy proteins, and choose moderate portions.

How does you daily plate match-up to the Healthy Eating Plate or MyPlate?

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Kathy Cunningham is a registered dietitian at the Boston Public Health Commission.