The Food Pyramid Becomes MyPlate – Will it Make Us Eat Better?

On June 2, First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled the U.S. government’s new food icon, MyPlate, which will replace the old Food Pyramid as the guiding visual intended to help consumers make healthier food choices. The plate shape is already used in many other countries and is intended to “prompt consumers to think about building a healthy plate at meal times.”

The new MyPlate icon emphasizes the fruit, vegetable, grains, protein and dairy food groups and is accompanied by a website — ChooseMyPlate.gov — where consumers can find more in-depth information.

“This is a quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods that we’re eating and as a mom, I can already tell how much this is going to help parents across the country,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “When mom or dad comes home from a long day of work, we’re already asked to be a chef, a referee, a cleaning crew. So it’s tough to be a nutritionist, too. But we do have time to take a look at our kids’ plates. As long as they’re half full of fruits and vegetables, and paired with lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, we’re golden. That’s how easy it is.”

First Lady Michelle Obama talks about the new Food Icon MyPlate (L to R seated Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin) on Thursday, June 2, 2011 in the Jefferson Auditorium, USDA.

First Lady Michelle Obama talks about the new Food Icon MyPlate (L to R seated Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin) on Thursday, June 2, 2011 in the Jefferson Auditorium, USDA.

“With so many food options available to consumers, it is often difficult to determine the best foods to put on our plates when building a healthy meal,” said Secretary Vilsack. “MyPlate is an uncomplicated symbol to help remind people to think about their food choices in order to lead healthier lifestyles. This effort is about more than just giving information, it is a matter of making people understand there are options and practical ways to apply them to their daily lives.”

So will this new plate icon make us eat better? Let’s look at the new guideline recommendations.

Balance Calories
• Enjoy your food, but eat less.
• Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase
• Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
• Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
• Make at least half your grains whole grains

Foods to Reduce
• Compare sodium (salt) in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals, and choose foods with lower numbers.
• Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

They seem a little vague to me, too open for interpretation. But maybe that is just the nature of the beast when trying to write dietary guidelines that are to be applied to an entire population? Eating less is definitely something we all need to re-learn, but do we really have a grasp on what a normal sized (versus oversized) portion is anymore?

Eat more of this.

Eat more of this.

I’m very happy to see the recommendation to make half your plate fruits and vegetables. In my mind, that is the most important thing — if we get enough fruits and vegetables in our diet our metabolism works better and we can be sure to get all the vitamins, minerals and enzymes that we need. If they are eaten raw, it even more beneficial.

I was also pleased to see a section talking about empty calories, and mentioning specific foods that should be avoided, something the USDA has tried before but had to step away from because of pressure from industry lobbyists. Here are the current recommendations:

Solid fats and added sugars can make a food or beverage more appealing, but they also can add a lot of calories. The foods and beverages that provide the most empty calories for Americans are:
• Cakes, cookies, pastries, and donuts (contain both solid fat and added sugars)
•  Sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and fruit drinks (contain added sugars)
• Cheese (contains solid fat)
• Pizza (contains solid fat)
• Ice cream (contains both solid fat and added sugars)
• Sausages, hot dogs, bacon, and ribs (contain solid fat)

Drink more of this. (Skip the dairy and reach for a glass of plain old water instead!)

Drink more of this. (Skip the dairy and reach for a glass of plain old water instead!)

One thing I would have liked to see is a recommendation about the importance of drinking enough water, something I don’t think most people do. Instead of the glass on the side of the plate being devoted to dairy (which many of us are finding plenty of reason to avoid) I think it should have been labeled “water.” If we don’t drink enough water — about 8 glasses a day — our bodies are not able to process the foods we eat or carry out other bodily functions as efficiently. So, I say, skip the dairy and pour yourself a good old glass of H2O with that (at least) half-veggie plate of yours!

As part of this new initiative, USDA wants to see how consumers are putting MyPlate in to action by encouraging consumers to take a photo of their plates and share on Twitter with the hash-tag #MyPlate or upload them to the USDA Flickr Photo Group.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
1 comment on this postSubmit yours
  1. I don’t see how a person can digest a meal of such complexity. This is like Thanksgiving at every meal. Totally with you, Johanna, on the glass of milk. Absurd. I’ve benefited tremendously from food combining, and there are many versions of it. Basically instead of all 5 food groups in one meal, better to stick to 2-3. Easier for the body to digest. Also, low-fat dairy is a denatured food and the body loses energy from trying to digest it. I muscle-test very weak on skim milk, and very strong on full-fat. As long as overall animal fat is under control, I think full-fat dairy is much better, once or twice a week. I’d say 70% of the plate should be veggies, the other 30, protein and grains. But I better stop before this becomes a treatise 🙂

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