What's On Your Plate?

We all know that we should eat better and exercise more.  But change is difficult unless our reasons for change are stronger than those for staying the same.  Studies show that nearly two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight and over one-third are classified as obese (1). Unfortunately, poor diet and physical inactivity contributed to over 400,000 deaths in the year 2000 (2).


If you are like most Americans that struggle with weight, you have been on countless diets only to find that diets don't work. Fortunately, the American Institute for Cancer Research has come up with suggestions that provide a guide to meals for a healthy weight and a healthy life (1).


What is the New American Plate?

  • An approach to eating that emphasizes the kinds of foods that can significantly reduce one's risk for disease.
  • An easy and helpful way to plan meals, especially for those who wish to manage their blood sugars, blood pressure or cholesterol levels.
  • An emphasis on plant based foods such as vegetables, whole grains, fruits and beans.
  • An eating style that shows how to enjoy all foods in sensible portions thereby promoting a healthy weight as just one part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

The New American Plate or Plate Method focuses on two-thirds plant based foods and one-third lean protein.  A good way to start this new eating style is to look at what is currently on your plate.  How much color is there?  Do you have mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans on at least two-thirds of your plate? Is your protein serving about the size of a deck of cards? 


Below is a sample of what your lunch or supper might look like using the Plate Method.


Graphic of what's on your plate



What to do if your plate does not look like the one above:

  1. Start by adding color to your plate (and I do not mean skittles or starburst).  Pick vegetables and fruits you enjoy and try to eat a variety of these every day.  The more vibrant the colors the better, as the pigments in the produce contain phytonutrients which help fight disease and keep us healthy.
  2. Try to incorporate as many whole grains as possible.  Check the fiber content on the label.  Include foods which have more than 3 grams of fiber per serving. Look for the words whole grain or whole wheat flour as the first ingredients. You may have seen many packages boasting the words "good source of whole grain".  These are not always the best because a good source of whole grain is defined by the food industry as simply 8 grams of whole grain and most servings are between 30-55 grams or 1 to 2 ounces each (3).  This means that products with "good source of whole grain" on the label can be as much as 85% refined grain!
  3. Choose nonfat or lowfat dairy products whenever possible.
  4. Select lean meats such as loin or round. Poultry without skin is best and any fish is good as long as it is not deep-fried.
  5. Watch your serving sizes, especially when eating out.  Twenty years ago a serving size for spaghetti was 1-cup pasta with sauce and 3 small meatballs, providing 500 calories.  The serving size today is 2 cups pasta with sauce and 3 large meatballs providing 1,025 calories.  You would need to clean your house for 2 hours and 35 minutes to burn this additional 525 calories (2).  A complete list of serving sizes can be found at www.aicr.org.
  6. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store.  Stay along the outside for the majority of your groceries.  Once you get into the aisles, you are faced with processed food that is more expensive and is often not the best choice.
  7. Remember to focus on small, sustainable changes.  This will ensure that your efforts will become a lifestyle and not just another temporary fix.

For more information or to contact a Registered Dietitian call Health and Nutrition Education at 608-287-2770.



  1. www.aicr.org
  2. www.nhlbi.nih.gov
  3. Nutrition Action Newsletter, May 2006.
  4. www.nutrition.gov