USDA replaces food pyramid with ‘MyPlate’ in hopes to promote healthier eating


First lady Michelle Obama speaks at the Agriculture Department in Washington, Thursday, June 2, 2011, to introduce the department's "My Plate". (Susan Walsh/AP)
June 3, 2011

After decades of the food pyramid, Americans can look to a new model for healthy eating, ‘MyPlate’, the new symbol of proper nutrition from the USDA which was announced Thursday. As Brian Vastag reported:

After devoting decades to designing a pyramid, then honing and refining that design, the nation’s nutrition experts have settled on what they believe is the perfect geometry to represent what we should eat — a plate.

Arriving in the midst of an obesity epidemic, this new at-a-glance guide to healthful eating is meant to remind consumers to limit heavy foods and beef up on the greens.

“MyPlate” promotes fruits and vegetables, which cover half the circle. Grains occupy an additional quarter, as do proteins such as meat, fish and poultry. A glass of milk rests to the side. Desserts have been banished to the desert.

At a media-heavy roll-out Thursday morning at USDA headquarters, the famously foodie first lady presided. With the White House vegetable garden in full leaf, Michelle Obama armed her crusade against the country’s obesity problem with what nutritionists and food lobbyists are already calling a powerful image.

“It’s brilliant in its simplicity,” said Robb MacKie, head of the American Bakers Association, which represents bread makers. “It’s something the average American can look at and get a visual feel for how they can fill up a plate at a meal.”

To avoid upstaging the first lady, the USDA made a select group of academics and food industry representatives sign non-disclosure forms at a private unveiling of the image three weeks ago, several sources said. Still, word leaked, leading to early rave reviews from hard-to-please corners of the foodieverse – and sighs of relief that the food plate’s predecessor, USDA’s confusing MyPyramid, had finally been dismantled.

USDA officials have said the old ‘MyPyramid’ was too complex and did not give people an easy way to compare their meals to the ideal balance recommended. As AP explained:

USDA officials say the pyramid was tired out, overly complex and tried to communicate too many different nutrition facts at once. The new symbol, unveiled Thursday at the department with first lady Michelle Obama in attendance, is simple and gives diners an idea of what should be on their plates when they sit down at the dinner table.

“It’s grabbing the consumers’ attention that we are after this time, not making it so complicated that perhaps it is a turnoff,” said Robert Post of USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. “There is something really inviting about this familiar setting for meal time.”

The department is planning to use social media as one way of grabbing attention, posting advice every day on Twitter, for example. The accompanying website, choosemyplate.gov, will be written on the chart. It will eventually feature interactive tools that help people manage their weight and track exercise.

Post, who has spent two years developing the plate and the website, said the new chart is designed to be “more artistic and attractive” and to serve as a visual cue for diners.

Gone are any references to sugars, fats or oils, and what was once a category called “meat and beans” is now simply “proteins.” Next to the plate is a blue circle for dairy, which could be a glass of milk or a food such as cheese or yogurt.

Even though the plate is divided into four sections, the servings aren’t supposed to be proportional. Every person has different nutritional needs, based on age, health and other factors. The symbol, based on a new set of dietary guidelines released in January, is a general guideline.

‘MyPlate’ has thus far been well received, especially in comparison to the older model. As Jennifer LaRue Huget reported:

A huge improvement over the baffling MyPyramid icon that it replaces, MyPlate is as easy as pie to understand; its designers smartly saved the fine print about how to actually fill the wedge-shaped spots on the plate for the Web site, ChooseMyPlate.gov. MyPlate, like the Food Pyramids before it, is meant to convey the key messages of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in a simple, consumer-friendly fashion.

It’s no fun, finding nothing to be snarky about with this particular use of federal funds. But, really, this plate thing, though not all that original, makes sense. And it probably will prove to have legs. In her remarks at the news conference at which MyPlate was introduced this morning, first lady Michelle Obama pointed out that the icon is “simple enough for children to understand, even at the elementary school level. They can learn to use this tool now and use it for the rest of their lives.”

Obama also said, “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.”

“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.”

More from The Washington Post

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