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The Checkup
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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 06/06/2011

MyPlate and PCRM

The healthful-eating icon the USDA debuted last Thursday is quite similar to one developed earlier by the pro-vegetarian/vegan Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

As I wrote in January, the PCRM has sued the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for whitewashing, in the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the harm that eating animal products can do. PCRM wanted the USDA to adopt its plant-based Power Plate icon to send Americans the message that a meat-and-dairy-free diet is the way to go.

Once MyPlate was made public, PCRM issued a statement outlining its objections, pointing out a major disconnect between the Dietary Guidelines’ call for us to eat more fruits and vegetables and the government’s agriculture subsidies, which pay short shrift to produce while funding lots of less-healthful foods.

Still, despite the lawsuit and those objections, PCRM is actually pretty happy with MyPlate. PCRM staff nutritionist Kathryn Strong says the group was “pleasantly surprised” when they saw the design last week. “We’d been submitting comments right along, letting them know what we thought. So it’s not that surprising they’re so similar,” Strong told me.

Strong says the USDA’s new icon “is drifting toward a plant-centered diet” with three quarters of the plate devoted to vegetables, fruits and grains and the other quarter to protein. In that scheme, she says, “meat is not necessary; it’s optional. They’re doing a good job of showing that protein doesn’t have to be meat.” (Legumes, she points out, are an excellent, low-fat source of protein.)

As for that pesky circle devoted to dairy, Strong is resigned. “We expected that,” she says. “The USDA is so tight-knit with dairy. Clearly calcium is important, but the bottom line is it doesn’t have to be dairy.”

Coincidentally, while I was writing this blog I got this newsletter from the Harvard School of Public Health explaining how to get enough calcium in your diet without relying solely on dairy products. Worth a read.

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 06/06/2011

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