USDA food pyramid now a plate-shaped dietary guide
By Bill Tomson
Last Update: 6:23 PM ET Jun 2, 2011
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday unveiled a plate-shaped icon representing the government’s new dietary guidelines, replacing the nearly 20-year-old food pyramid that was often criticized for its complexity.
The new graphic features sections of varying sizes to represent the portions of food groups that should make up a meal. Included are five food groups: Grains are in orange, proteins in purple, vegetables in green, fruits in red and dairy in blue. The plate graphic, what the USDA refers to, replaces what was a color-coded pyramid.
A fork adorns the symbolic plate and represents all of the food groups except dairy, which is off to the side in a separate smaller circle. Together the plate, a smaller circle that could be seen as a glass, and fork resemble a table place setting.
Below the graphic USDA directs consumers to its ChooseMyPlate.gov Web site where the USDA guidelines are listed in detail. USDAThe U.S. Department of Agriculture ChooseMyPlate campaign replaces the nearly 20-year-old food pyramid that was often criticized for its complexity.
“It’s simple and direct and, in our view, a fresh approach to grab consumers’ attention and help them think before they eat,” said Robert Post, deputy director of the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.
The vegetable and fruit quadrants take up half of the plate icon, and Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive of the United Fresh Produce Association, said it should help to get people to eat more of both food groups.
“For years, dietary guidelines have encouraged incorporating more fruits and vegetables to create a healthier diet, and MyPlate offers a clear and compelling visual reminder to do just that,” Del Monte Foods Co. Senior Nutritionist Sarah Ludmer said.
The new USDA icon makes no mention of meat specifically, but American Meat Institute Foundation President James Hodges said beef, pork and poultry are “some of the most nutrient-rich foods available.”
The plate graphic, he said, “affirms the role that meat and poultry play in a healthy diet, while emphasizing under-consumed food groups.”
In stark contrast to the plate graphic, the USDA in January released lengthy new guidelines for how Americans should eat.
The agency’s dietary guidelines call on Americans to reduce their intake of sodium, depend less on red meats, eat more seafood and consume smaller portions overall. The USDA releases new guidelines every five years.
The new guidelines single out processed foods such as pizza, salad dressing, cold cuts and hamburgers as high-sodium foods that Americans need to eat less often. They also recommend eating more whole grains.
To people who may feel put upon by the new USDA guidelines and icon, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack stressed that the agency wasn’t trying to force feed its recommendations to anyone.
The USDA isn’t trying to take anyone’s cookies away, Vilsack said, and stressed: “We want to make sure that, as [people] make choices, they know what good choices look like.”
It can be difficult for busy parents to take the time to be nutritionists for their children, said First Lady Michelle Obama, who unveiled the new logo Thursday with Vilsack.
“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,” Obama said.