What does the new MyPlate icon from USDA mean for consumers?
On June 2, the USDA revealed a new food icon, replacing the Food Pyramid with MyPlate.
We asked two of our experts to discuss the changes and what they mean for consumers.
Connie Diekman, RD, past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and current Director of University Nutrition, Washington University:
“The Food Pyramid has given way to a new shape that will hopefully help Americans get in shape. MyPlate gives a simple picture of how to plate-out foods for more balanced meals.”
The new graphic follows the January release of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In addition to the new graphic, consumers can click on each section of the plate to learn more about each food group and why it is important for healthy living.
“What is different with this new graphic is that it clearly shows what the balance of each food group should look like in a healthful eating plan. The focus on vegetables and fruits clearly demonstrates the important health benefits of these two food groups, as well as their lower calorie content.”
Diane Birt, PhD, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition and Director of the Center for Research on Botanical Dietary Supplements, Iowa State University
“The newly-released MyPlate icon reverses the trend of trying to pack an increasing amount of information into the USDA food guide. In our fast-paced lives, this simplification will certainly be helpful for consumers, and will be much more relevant for children. Since the new icon contrasts with an emphasis on meat and processed grains that are common on the plates of U.S. consumers, the need for change is abundantly clear.”
However, Birt feels that the considerable complexity of diet and exercise choices that impact health is blunted with the simplified graphic.
“For example, the MyPyramid guide, emphasized “meat and beans” as a heading instead of ‘protein’ and specific dietary recommendations appeared with the icon, like ‘choose more fish beans, peas and seeds.’ The ChooseMyPlate website requires drilling into the site to discover the complexity of the protein group. Further, while the vegetable group in the MyPyramid graphic emphasized a great variety of vegetables and gently underemphasized potatoes (the best represented vegetable on the plate of a typical U.S. consumer), the basic graphic for MyPlate does not address the nature of the vegetables, forcing website visitors to move into the pages to see the a variety of vegetables that are recommended.”
Overall, Dr. Birt feels that as MyPlate gets implemented, consumers need to be encouraged to drill into the various website pages to understand how to improve dietary choices.
In summary, the key for consumers is that the new MyPlate visual should serve just as the start towards healthful food choices. Learning portion sizes, making better choices within each food group and getting regular activity are all important points that must be included as you choose what goes on your plate.
For more information on serving sizes, and to plan a diet that is tailored to fit your needs, check out www.choosemyplate.gov. There you can find an interactive menu planner, analyze your current diet, and get tips on healthy eating habits.
For more ways to incorporate vegetables into your diet, check out these recipes: