Healthy Eating Plate and Healthy Eating Pyramid
Use a Healthy Eating Plate and Healthy Eating Pyramid that are based on the latest and best science.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s why nutritionists use symbols and shapes to answer the question, “What should I eat?” For nearly two decades, the U.S. government distilled its nutrition advice into pyramids. These efforts didn’t accurately show people what makes up a healthy diet. Why? Their recommendations were based on out-of-date science and influenced by people with business interests in the messages the icons sent. This year, the U.S. government scrapped its MyPyramid icon in favor of the fruit-and-vegetable rich MyPlate—an improvement, yet one that still doesn’t go far enough to show people how to make the healthiest choices.
There are better alternatives: the new Healthy Eating Plate and the Healthy Eating Pyramid, both built by faculty members in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, in conjunction with colleagues at Harvard Health Publications. The Healthy Eating Plate fixes the flaws in USDA’s MyPlate, just as the Healthy Eating Pyramid rectifies the mistakes of the USDA’s food pyramids. Both the Healthy Eating Plate and the Healthy Eating Pyramid are based on the latest science about how our food, drink, and activity choices affect our health—and are unaffected by businesses and organizations with a stake in their messages.
The Healthy Eating Pyramid
The Healthy Eating Pyramid is a simple, trustworthy guide to choosing a healthy diet. Its foundation is daily exercise and weight control, since these two related elements strongly influence your chances of staying healthy. The Healthy Eating Pyramid builds from there, showing that you should eat more foods from the bottom part of the pyramid (vegetables, whole grains) and less from the top (red meat, refined grains, potatoes, sugary drinks, and salt).
When it’s time for dinner, most of us eat off of a plate. So think of the new Healthy Eating Plate as blueprint for a typical meal: Fill half your plate with produce—colorful vegetables, the more varied the better, and fruits. (Remember, potatoes and French fries don’t count as vegetables!) Save a quarter of your plate for whole grains. A healthy source of protein, such as fish, poultry, beans, or nuts, can make up the rest. The glass bottle is a reminder to use healthy oils, like olive and canola, in cooking, on salad, and at the table. Complete your meal with a cup of water, or if you like, tea or coffee with little or no sugar (not the milk or other dairy products that the USDA’s MyPlate recommends; limit milk/dairy products to one to two servings per day). And that figure scampering across the bottom of the placemat? It’s your reminder that staying active is half of the secret to weight control. The other half is eating a healthy diet with modest portions that meet your calorie needs—so be sure you choose a plate that is not too large.
Five quick tips:
1. Stay active. A healthy diet is built on a base of regular physical activity, which keeps calories in balance and weight in check. Read five quick tips for staying active and getting to your healthy weight, and 20 ideas for fitting exercise into your life.
2. Go with plants. Eating a plant-based diet is healthiest. Make half your plate vegetables and fruits. Cook with healthy plant oils, like olive and canola oil. Get most or all of your protein from beans, nuts and seeds, or tofu. Check out these delicious healthy recipes that bring the Healthy Eating Pyramid and Healthy Eating Plate into your kitchen.
3. Pick healthy protein sources like fish and beans, not burgers and hot dogs. Eating fish, chicken, beans, or nuts in place of red meat and processed meat can lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes. So limit red meat—beef, pork, or lamb—to twice a week or less. Avoid processed meat—bacon, cold cuts, hot dogs, and the like—since it strongly raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer. Read more about choosing healthy proteins.
4. Make your grains whole grains. Grains are not essential for good health. What’s essential is to make any grains you eat whole grains, since these have a gentler effect on blood sugar and insulin. Over time, eating whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta) in place of refined grains (white rice, white bread, white pasta) makes it easier to control weight and lowers the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Read more about whole grains.
5. Drink water, coffee, or tea—not sugary beverages—and drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. What you drink is as important to your health as what you eat. Water is the best choice, and coffee and tea also have health benefits. Sugary drinks are the worst choice, because they add empty calories, leading to weight gain, in addition to raising the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Limit milk and dairy to one to two servings per day, since high dairy intake can increase the risk of some diseases, and go easy on juice, since it is high in sugar. Moderate alcohol consumption can have real health benefits for many people, but it’s not for everyone; those who don’t drink shouldn’t feel that they need to start. Read more about healthy drinks.
The Healthy Eating Pyramid image on this Web site is owned by the Harvard University. It may be downloaded and used without permission for educational and other non-commercial uses with proper attribution, including the following copyright notification and credit line: Copyright © 2008. For more information about The Healthy Eating Pyramid, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health,, and Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, by Walter C. Willett, M.D., and Patrick J. Skerrett (2005), Free Press/Simon & Schuster Inc. Any other use, including commercial reuse or mounting on other systems, requires permission from the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health. To request permission, please contact us using the on this Web site.
The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Source is to provide timely information on diet and nutrition for clinicians, allied health professionals, and the public. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The information does not mention brand names, nor does it endorse any particular products.