TOPS provides the “do-it.”®

TOPS® is not about dieting or selling you a specific food plan. It’s about giving real people just like you the support and tools they need to make lasting lifestyle changes that make sense for them. That said, TOPS® does strongly recommend three different healthy eating plans—the Food Exchange System, MyPlate, and Canada's Food Guide. Ask your personal healthcare professional to advise you on a food plan that will work best for you.

The Food Exchange System

The Food Exchange System guides you to use variety and flexibility in your meal planning to achieve balanced nutrition at a calorie level that is best for your goals. There are no “good” or “bad” foods with the Exchange System—all foods fit, in moderation, of course. Food exchange lists, which were developed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and American Diabetes Association, group all foods with similar proportions of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

Based on similar proportions of these three nutrients, all food is divided into six groups: Starch, Meat, Fruit, Vegetable, Milk, and Fat. There’s an additional “Free” group for foods that have less than 20 calories per serving.

It’s called the “Exchange System” because each item on a particular list, in the portion listed, may be swapped with any other food item on the same list. For example, half of an English muffin may be exchanged for a 1-ounce slice of bread since both of these foods are in the Starch group and have roughly the same amount of carbohydrate, protein, and fat. The TOPS lifestyle guide, Real Life: The Hands-on Pounds-off Guide, fully explains the Exchange System, so members understand it and use it successfully as they plan their meals. While the Exchange System can seem a bit tricky at first, once you learn it, it's a tool for life.


MyPlate, unveiled in June 2011 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), replaces the 20-year-old food pyramid, which the USDA said was too confusing for consumers. Size of the plate and size of the portions are, of course, very important.

The MyPlate icon gives us a visual reminder to fill half of our plate with fruits and vegetables, something TOPS has advocated for years. It’s as simple as that. The remainder of our plate should include lean protein and grains—preferably whole grains such as brown rice or whole-wheat pasta. Pair your plate with a side of low-fat dairy such as skim milk, and you have a balanced, nutritious meal.

To learn more about MyPlate, visit To help you build healthier meals, “A Week of MyPlate Worksheet” is available to TOPS members on our Healthy Eating and Recipes page under Double Your Chances For Success. Try to use MyPlate as the basis for your main meal each day as a simple way to get started.

Canada’s Food Guide

Since 1942, Canada has changed their food guide’s name and look numerous times, but the goal has always remained the same - to provide Canadians with nutrition guidelines and food selections for a healthier lifestyle.

Canada’s Food Guide presents its recommendations for eating well, portion control, and adding variety and balance to daily meals with colorful descriptions and easy-to-follow steps. Similar to the U.S. MyPlate eating plan, the food guide is evidence based and grounded in current nutrition science. The food guide groups foods into four categories: vegetables and fruit; grain products; milk and alternatives; and meat and alternatives. Perhaps the biggest difference from MyPlate is the push for meatless proteins such as tofu, beans and lentils.

In just six pages, Canada’s food guide covers recommended servings based on age and gender, tips for reducing fat, sugar and salt in a diet, exercise guidelines, how to meet your vitamin needs and much more. To learn more, go to Canada's Food Guide.

Canada is in the process of revising and updating its healthy eating recommendations.  You can read more about upcoming changes on the official Canada government website.