You keep reading and hearing about eating healthier and getting regular exercise to improve your health but you don’t know where to go to get started. Instead of buying the latest diet book or investing in exercise equipment or a health club membership why don’t you consider a free alternative? Free is good. So where do you go for this free information and tools to get you started?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (USDA) is a great place to go to begin your journey to a healthier lifestyle. You’ve probably heard of the food pyramid which as of 2005 has been renamed MyPyramid. The new MyPyramid symbolizes a personalized approach to healthy eating and physical activity. The USDA has redesigned the symbol to be simple and to remind individuals to make healthy food choices and incorporate exercise into their daily routines.

One of the great aspects of MyPyramid is that it is not a one size fits all program for healthy eating and regular exercise. It is highly customizable based upon gender, age, height, weight and activity level. MyPyramid also allows you to formulate a plan to either maintain your current weight or work towards a more ideal weight. The two interactive tools are MyPyramid Tracker and MyPyramid Menu Planner.

Before we start talking about the interactive tools let’s review the principles and fundamentals of USDA’s MyPyramid. The six principles are:

(1) Activity. Recommendations begin with 30 minutes daily and increase depending on your age and weight loss goals. To prevent weight gain most people need 60 minutes daily.
(2) Moderation. Recommendations for limiting your intake of foods containing added sugars and solid fats (saturated and trans fats).
(3) Personalization. No two people are alike and as mentioned previously MyPyramid allows for a great deal of customization.
(4) Proportionality. Of the six basic foods groups (grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, meat & beans and oils) each one should be eaten in the proper proportion. For example you don’t want to eat the exact same proportion of each group daily.
(5) Variety. Something from each of the six basic food groups should be eaten every day.
(6) Gradual Improvement. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and so does the journey to a healthier lifestyle. Begin with small changes to improve your eating and exercising habits and gradually incorporate additional changes over time.

The healthy eating fundamentals of MyPyramid are:

(1) Make your grains whole grains. Select whole grain wheat or oat bread instead of the enriched white bread. Choose brown rice instead of white rice. Begin your day with oatmeal or another whole grain cereal instead of bacon & eggs.
(2) Vary your vegetables. Eat more dark green vegetables like spinach, broccoli and collard greens. Choose more orange vegetables like carrots, squash and sweet potatoes.
(3) Focus on fruits. Eat a variety of fruits whether fresh, frozen, dried or canned. Go easy on the juice and make certain it is 100 percent juice.
(4) Get your calcium rich foods. Go low-fat or fat-free when selecting milk, yogurt or other milk products. Even though butter, cream and cream cheese are made from milk they don’t count as they contain little or no calcium.
(5) Go lean with the protein. Choose lean meats and poultry and trim off any excess fat. Bake, broil or grill it instead of frying. Vary your choices to include more fish, beans, nuts and seeds.
(6) Oils know your fats. Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature. Choose vegetable oils like corn, canola and olive oils.

With the basic principles and fundamentals as a foundation MyPyramid let’s talk about the two interactive tools. MyPyramid Menu Planner allows you to enter in the foods and beverages you eat each day and provides reports analyzing your daily caloric intake and the proportion of foods to MyPyramids’ recommendations. This will allow you to see where you need to either cut-back on your total food intake and/or adjust your proportion of the six basic food groups. Another fantastic feature of the menu planner is you can choose foods from the drop-down menus to plan meals for the upcoming week (for as many as 7 people in a family). Then using the analysis reports you can see how the meals you have planned fit into the recommendations of MyPyramid.

The MyPyramid Tracker is two tools in one with an assessment of your food intake and an assessment of your physical activity. The trackers allow you to store up to one year of information to monitor your progress towards a healthy lifestyle. The two trackers work synergistically to let you know if you need to either adjust your food intake or your activity level to reach your personalized weight loss goals. Both the food intake and physical activity trackers work from drop down menus that contain every conceivable food or activity to provide an extremely accurate reflection of your daily routines and consequently providing accurate personalized information that you just can’t find with most similar products that are not free.

You can find both the MyPyramid Menu Planner and MyPyramid Tracker at Go there today to begin your journey to a healthier lifestyle.

Author's Bio: 

Douglas Millington, an avid fitness enthusiast, is the owner of and primary contributer to The website provides fitness, diet, weight loss, health and nutritional information to help you achieve your healthy lifestyle goals. Get Fit For Life.