When the government replaced the old food pyramid with a plate divided into four parts, it was supposed to make nutrition recommendations easier to understand. But the USDA’s research finds that two years later, most people still aren’t digesting the guidelines. Change does take time, but we’d like to speed up the process by making easier even easier.
Here is how much you need from each food group, and the ounce or cup equivalents of one serving of some common foods. That means while the amounts might not actually be exactly an ounce or a cup, they count as an ounce or a cup when adding up your daily intake.
On average, according to the USDA, people are eating 30 percent more meat than is recommended. The government says women should aim for about 5 ounces of lean meat, fish or vegetarian protein each day. Now, we believe you should have, at most, 4 ounces of red meat, including pork, in a week (we may learn how to make red meat less problematic in the future, but for now we advise limiting yourself) – so add that in to your thoughts.
What counts as an ounce of protein?
- 1 small steak filet = 4 ounces
- 1 small hamburger (note, one serving is small!) = 3 ounces
- 1 half of a chicken breast = 3 ounces
- 4 sandwich slices of turkey = 4 ounces
- 1 can of tuna = 4 ounces
- 1 salmon steak = 4 to 6 ounces
- 1 small trout = 3 ounces
- 1 egg = 1 ounce
- 1/4 cup of cooked beans, lentils or chickpeas = 1 ounce
- 1 cup of split pea, lentil or bean soup = 2 ounces
- 1 soy or bean burger = 2 ounces
- 2 tablespoons of hummus = 1 ounce
- 3 falafel balls = 3 ounces
- 12 almonds = 1/2 ounce
- 24 pistachios = 1/2 ounce
- 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or almond butter = 1 ounce
Women should be getting about 2 cups of fruit a day, by the USDA guidelines – and we believe 4 cups is optimal. Across the country, people are eating only 38 percent of that 2-cup minimum.
What counts as a cup of fruit?
- 1 small apple = 1 cup
- 1 snack container of applesauce = 1/2 cup
- 1 large banana = 1 cup
- 32 seedless grapes = 1 cup
- 1 medium grapefruit = 1 cup
- 1 large orange = 1 cup
- 8 large strawberries = 1 cup
- 1 small box of raisins = 1/2 cup
- 1 medium pear = 1 cup
The My Plate people say you want to tally up a healthy 2.5 cups of vegetables a day; we think 5 is closer to optimal. Do you think we, as a country, are swallowing even that 2.5-cup minimum? No, we’re not. Try 1.6 cups, on average. We’re doing a little better with vegetables than with fruit, but it still needs work.
What counts as a cup of vegetables?
- 1 cup of broccoli florets = 1 cup
- 1 cup of cooked spinach, kale or collard greens = 1 cup
- 2 cups of raw lettuce = 1 cup (you need twice the raw stuff to equal a cup of cooked greens)
- 2 medium carrots = 1 cup
- 1 large pepper = 1 cup
- 1 large tomato = 1 cup
- 1 small ear of corn = 1/2 cup
- 1 medium baked potato = 1 cup
- 2 large celery stalks = 1 cup
- 1 cup cooked green beans = 1 cup
- 1 large sweet potato = 1 cup
No surprise, but the USDA says that we’re overdoing it on grains. (Oh, those never-ending bread baskets!) Stick to 6 ounces of 100 percent whole grains (and only 100 percent whole grains) a day.
What counts as an ounce of grains?
- 1 bagel = 4 ounces
- 1 slice of bread = 1 ounce
- 1 cup of cereal = 1 ounce
- 1 medium piece of cornbread = 2 ounces
- 7 saltines = 1 ounce
- 1 English muffin = 2 ounces
- 1 muffin = 3 ounces
- 1 packet of instant oatmeal = 1 ounce
- 3 pancakes = 3 ounces
- 1 bag of microwave popcorn = 4 ounces
- 1 cup of cooked rice = 2 ounces
- 1 cup of pasta = 2 ounces
- 1 large tortilla = 4 ounces
We’re coming up short on the 3 cups of dairy products the government recommends each day. The overall benefit of dairy has come into question in recent years, and many people are cutting out dairy these days for digestive reasons. If you do eat dairy, stick to nonfat – that is, skim – products only. And try no-fat, no-sugar added almond or walnut or soy milk.
What counts as a cup of dairy?
- 1 cup or 1/2 pint container of milk = 1 cup
- 1 cup of calcium-fortified soy milk = 1 cup
- 1 container of yogurt = 1 cup
- 2 slices of nonfat cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss or Parmesan cheese = 1 cup
- 1/3 cup of nonfat shredded cheese = 1 cup
- 1 cup of no sugar added, nonfat frozen yogurt = 1 cup