Food Pyramid & MyPlate

Graphics of the food pyramid and myplate from USDA

Eating healthy and nourishing foods is an important part of supporting your activities and well-being on-campus. This page provides some information and resources on nutritional information that you can use to help guide your eating choices. Rather than “dieting”, focusing on eating healthy foods and getting regular exercise is the best way to maintain your health long-term. For more personalized information, there is also nutritional counseling available through the Mount Holyoke Health Center.

Eating Healthy in the Dining Halls

Ever wondered about how to maintain a healthy diet at school? Confused by all the options available? Check out our video to learn some basic tips and find out how to build a balanced plate.

The food groups

For a balanced diet, it is important to eat foods from a variety of food groups. Foods from different groups provide different macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) as well as micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

Graphics showing each of the five food groups

Vegetables

The average adult needs 3 to 4 servings of vegetables each day. Vegetables include dark-green vegetables, red and orange vegetables, starchy vegetables, beans and peas*, and starchy vegetables.

 

Starchy vegetables are a good source of carbohydrates for “fuel” and provide some other vitamins such as vitamin C and B.  These include corn, beans, potatoes, peas, acorn squash. Beans are also one of the best sources of fiber, and can actually help lower cholesterol.

Non-starchy vegetables provide a wide variety of vitamins. Most vegetables fall under this category including tomatoes, green beans, peppers, eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, mushrooms, onions, asparagus, greens, brussels sprouts, and more. Deep yellow and dark green veggies provide beta carotene, and tomatoes and pepper provide vitamin C. Deep green leafy vegetables provide folic acid. Lettuce doesn't provide much more than water unless it is a dark green lettuce. Because the nutrients differ so much, it's important to eat a wide variety of vegetables.

Visit ChooseMyPlate.gov for a more complete list of vegetables in different groups.

*Beans and peas, or legumes, also count towards protein requirements. Read more about how to count legumes toward your protein requirements, especially if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Increase your veggie intake:

  1. Make salads more interesting: Use a variety of greens such as arugula, bibb lettuce, chicory, kale, leaf lettuce, romaine, spinach and watercress.
  2. Add veggies to lunch and snack in order to get 3-4 servings per day.
  3. Use spinach, sprouts, and cucumbers on a sandwich.
  4. Top pasta, rice or baked potatoes with stir-fry or steamed veggies.
  5. Keep some raw veggies cut in the refrigerator for quick snacks.
  6. Try tomato or V8 juice with breakfast or lunch.
  7. Eat the peels on potatoes, cucumbers, and yellow or zucchini squash for more fiber.
  8. Add beans or chickpeas salads.

Fruits

The average adult needs 2 to 3 servings of fruits each day. Fruits include berries, melons, other fruits, and 100% fruit juice.

One serving of fruit is about 1 medium fruit. This can include:

  • 1 hand fruit like an apple or orange
  • ½ a grapefruit, mango, or papaya
  • ¾ cup 100% fruit juice
  • ½ cup berries or fruit salad
  • ½ cup canned, frozen, or cooked fruit
  • ¼ cup dried fruit

The sweetness in fruit comes from its natural sugar called fructose. Sometimes additional sugar is added to frozen or canned fruits. Most fruits are low in fat and all are cholesterol free.

Fruit provides a number of different vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.

  • Fruits provide a high amount of fiber, especially when they have edible peels.
  • Pectin is a fruit fiber thought to help lower blood cholesterol.
  • Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits, tangerines), melons, and berries provide vitamin C.
  • Deep yellow fruits (apricots, mangos, cantaloupe, and peaches) are rich in vitamin A.
  • Fruit also provides potassium and folic acid.
  • Avocados and olives are fruits that are higher in fat. The type of fat in most plant-based foods is called monounsaturated fats, which is thought to help lower “bad” cholesterol levels, but not the good cholesterol.

Increase your fruit intake:

  • Carry whole or dried fruits in your backpack to eat as a snack.
  • Add fruits to salads and coleslaw.
  • Add grapes or tangerines to chicken salad.
  • Sprinkle dried fruit on cereal and yogurt, puddings or ice cream.
  • Try fruited breads, stuffing and muffins.
  • Fruit juice is quick and easy "on-the-run" way to get fruit in your diet.

Visit ChooseMyPlate.gov for a more complete list of fruits in different groups.

Grains

The average adult needs 6  to 11  servings of grains each day. Grains can be either “refined grains” or “whole grains” depending on how much they are processed. Whole grains provide more fiber and nutrients than refined grains.

 

Examples of 1 serving of grains:

  • 1 (6-inch) tortilla
  • ½ cup cooked rice or pasta
  • ½ cup cooked oatmeal, grits, or cream of wheat cereal
  • ½ cup cooked barley, bulgur or other cooked grains
  • 1 ounce (3/4-1 cup) ready-to-eat cereal
  • 1 slice enriched or whole-grain bread (1 ounce)
  • 1 (4-inch) diameter pancake or waffle
  • ½ hamburger roll, bagel, pita bread, or English muffin
  • 2 medium cookies
  • 3-4 small crackers
  • 3 tablespoons wheat germ

Increase your grain intake:

  • Use instant hot cereals like oatmeal for a quick breakfast choice.
  • Pancakes and waffles make breads at breakfast tasty.
  • Burritos, pasta, and rice bowls make grains easy at lunch.
  • Tuck a granola bar in your backpack.
  • Experiment with new grains such as buckwheat, millet, couscous, bulgur or quinoa.
  • Add rolls, bread or cornbread to your dinner meal
  • Cereals are good for a quick bedtime snack.

Tips for choosing carbohydrates:

  • Your muscles burn foods from this group when you workout. Eating grains before working out is a good way to get carbohydrates.
  • Bread group foods are usually low in fat and cholesterol. Watch out for "fat-free" choices from this group. They may have extra, empty calories from added sugar.
  • Whole grain choices provide more fiber.
  • Some cereals are "enriched" and provide extra iron or calcium.
  • Gluten free? Try gluten-free bread, rice, quinoa, oatmeal, or baked goods as a grain choice.

Visit ChooseMyPlate.gov for a more complete list of grains in different groups.

Protein

The average adult needs 5  to 7 ounces of protein each day. Protein foods include meats, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts & seeds, and soy products. In addition to protein, foods in this group provide iron, zinc, and B vitamins (thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12).

You can get your servings of protein in a variety of ways:

2 ounces of meat:

  • ½ cup tuna or ground beef
  • 1 small chicken leg or thigh
  • 2 slices sandwich-size meat

3 ounces meat, cooked, is about the size of a deck of cards:

  • 1 medium pork chop
  • ¼ pound hamburger patty
  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1 unbreaded 3-ounce fish filet

Vegetarian substitutes for 1 ounce of meat:

  • ½ cup cooked lentils, peas, or dry beans
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup egg substitute
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup nuts
  • 4 ounces tofu
  • 1 ounce of hard cheese

Fat in animal-derived foods in this group

The meat group also indirectly provides a lot of the fat we eat. Almost all animal foods have some amount of fat and some that fat is saturated. Your body uses saturated fat to make blood cholesterol. Some kinds and cuts of meat have more saturated fats than others. The way the meat is prepared can also add more fat. Because these are animal products, this group also contains varying amounts of cholesterol.

Fats in plant-derived foods in this group

The plant foods in this group; dry bean, peas and nuts, are also excellent sources of protein. These foods are naturally free of cholesterol and saturated fat.

Beans and peas are excellent sources of carbohydrate and fiber and are virtually fat-free. Nuts and nut butters supply protein and vitamins, but they also contain fat. The fat in nuts is monounsaturated, or the “healthy type” of fat for your heart, though they are calorie-dense.

Increase your protein intake

Animal sources of protein

  • Hard-boiled eggs make for a quick breakfast. You may eat up to 4 egg yolks per week.
  • Use egg whites on salads rather than yolks to limit egg yolks to 4 per week.
  • Deli sandwiches or subs make a great lunch.
  • Try grilled, broiled, boiled, and baked cuts of meat, poultry and fish for dinner.
  • Eight ounces of milk or yogurt also contain protein and can be counted as 1 ounce of meat.
  • One ounce of hard cheese can count as 1 ounce of meat.

Plant sources of protein

  • Try vegetarian chili, lasagna, or soup with beans.
  • Use tofu in vegetable stir-fry.
  • Add beans in with a salad, or mix up a three-, four-, or five-bean salad.
  • Toss chopped nuts in a salad or casserole.
  • Order bean burritos or tacos.
  • Spread peanut butter on a sliced apple.
  • Try hummus as a dip for chips or veggies.
  • Order a veggie or bean burger.

Visit ChooseMyPlate.gove for a more complete list of proteins in different groups.

 

Dairy

The average adult needs 3  to 4  servings of dairy each day. The dairy food group can include milk, milk-based desserts, cheese, yogurt, and non-dairy calcium alternatives*.

Calcium and nutrients

This part of the food group contributes a significant amount of calcium to the diet. Calcium helps build strong bones, length, and strength, and keeps bones strong as we age by slowing the rate of bone loss. It also helps your muscle and vital organ functioning, nerve functioning, and blood clotting. Not enough calcium can interfere with bone growth, affect bone density and bone loss, increase risk of stress fractures, result in muscle cramping, and increase risk of osteoporosis.

Up to the age of 24, women need about 1200 mg of Calcium. One serving from the dairy group has about 300 mg of calcium. Dairy foods also provide protein, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin A and vitamin D. Calcium fortified orange juice does not replace any of these nutrients, so it fits into the fruit group with an added calcium bonus. Choosing low or nonfat milk foods will save calories, but will still provide all the other nutrients. Butter, half & half, cream cheese, and sour cream do not fit into the milk group because they are high in fat. These foods are in the fat group.

Some examples of 1 serving of milk, yogurt, and cheese:

  • 1 cup of milk or buttermilk
  • 1 cup of yogurt
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • 1/3 cup dry milk
  • 1-½ ounces of natural cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey Jack)
  • ½ cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 ounces processed cheese (American)
  • 1 cup frozen yogurt
  • 2 cups cottage cheese
  • 1 cup ice cream

Increase your dairy intake

  • Add milk on hot or cold cereal.
  • Choose yogurt or a yogurt-fruit smoothie for breakfast.
  • Have decaf coffee au lait or latte, or add milk to your coffee & tea.
  • Add cheese on a sandwich.
  • Choose yogurt dips with vegetables.
  • Use shredded cheese on soup and salads.
  • Have pudding for dessert.

*Check the label to ensure that the product is calcium-fortified.

Visit ChooseMyPlate.gov for a more complete list of dairy foods in different groups.

Added Sugar, Oils, and Sodium

It is generally recommended to reduce the amount of added oils and sugars in a diet, since they provide little to no nutritional value.

Sugars

The American Heart Association recommends that adults limit their daily intake of added sugars to 6 to 9 teaspoons, or 25 to 36 grams, each day. The USDA recommends limiting added sugars to 50 grams per day.

Sweets, or foods with added sugars, is something that the body doesn’t need at all. The brain thinks that it needs sugars, since they are high in carbohydrates which provide energy. Sugar, however, is an empty calorie, which provides calories but no vitamins or minerals. Many low-fat and fat-free foods contain a large portion of of their calories from added sugar to enhance their flavor. These foods are often also high in sodium.

Oils & Fats

Fat is something the body needs. Our bodies don’t require large amounts of fat, but do require some. A no-fat or extremely low-fat diet can be very unhealthy for most. Athletes actually burn fat as a fuel during exercise and a very low-fat diet and harm their performance.

Some sources of fat are better than others. Animal fats and a very few plant fats are saturated and your body uses saturated fat to make cholesterol. Saturated plant fats are coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil. The other plant fats are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, which are better choices that saturated fats. Monounsaturated fat is the best option.

Servings of fats can come from salad dressings, oils, cream, butter, gravy, margarine, cream cheese.

Good sources of monounsaturated fat include olive oil, nuts & nut butters, and canola oil.

Sodium

It is recommended to limit sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day. Foods that are especially high in sodium include condiments and sauces, soy sauce or tamari, pizza, processed meats, and canned soups or vegetables.

Ways to limit fats, sweets, & sodium:

  • Limit salad dressing to 1 or 2 tablespoons or switch to a low fat version. Choose an olive oil based dressing if available.
  • Go easy on spread, toppings, gravies, and sauces that add fat or sugar.
  • Be conscious of the amount of cream cheese, sour cream and butter you use. Choose a low-fat, vegetable margarine in a tub to avoid saturated fat.
  • Enjoy candy and sweetened drinks, including Gatorade, in moderation.
  • Use nuts for the crunch of salads rather than bacon or fried noodles.
  • Try peanut butter with a fruit spread rather than meat and mayonnaise.
  • Use low-fat dairy products including cheeses.
  • Replace fat-free, sugar sweetened snacks with fruits and vegetables