Dishing on the USDA new food icon, MyPlate

MyPlate Today’s guest post is by Mary Lee Chin, MS, RD, a nutrition and health communications consultant who advises for the Egg Nutrition Center.

Dishing up MyPlate

Served up earlier this month, Americans are trying to digest the newest version of the food group’s icon, MyPlate. Reaction to the new icon by and large has been positive especially compared to the old MyPyramid, which was confusing and a great mystery to many.

Replaced by a circular plate, the new icon’s meant to give consumers a fast, easily understandable reminder of the basics of a healthy diet. Reflecting what a balanced meal on a plate is supposed to look like, it’s hailed as realistic since we eat on plates, not pyramids.

MyPlate is divided into four differently colored wedges representing sections for fruits (red), vegetables (green), grains (brown) and protein (purple). Beside the plate is a smaller circle for dairy (blue), suggesting a glass of low-fat milk, or perhaps a cup of yogurt. Please don’t call the wedges “pie-shaped” as nutrition messages associated with the icon stress limiting calories and portion sizes, addressing concern with American’s increasing body sizes.

The launch was highlighted by the appearance of first lady Michelle Obama, who had this to say:

“Parents don't have the time to measure out exactly three ounces of chicken or look up how much rice or broccoli is in a serving. That has confounded me as a parent for a very long time. But we do have time to look at our kids' plates. As long as they're eating proper portions, as long as half of their meal is fruits and vegetables alongside their lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, then we're good.”

The new guidelines emphasize filling half the plate with fruits and veggies, and 1/4 with grains and 1/4 with protein. By simply eye-balling the plate consumers can see the amount of one food group compared to other food groups. It’s an easy tool for you and your family to use as a visual guide for eating well and healthily.

A quick look wedge by wedge

Fruits and vegetables groups: Fruits and vegetables are nutrient-rich, containing a wealth of compounds such as phyto-nutrients, fiber, minerals and vitamins for the amount of calories they provide. Consuming a generous variety of fruits and vegetables can help protect against disease including chronic diseases, stroke and certain cancers. Make choices from this wedge  by color: vibrantly colored red, orange, dark green such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers and broccoli, and the reds and yellows of naturally sweet fruits such as oranges, peaches, mangos and kiwi.

Grain group: Divided into two sub-groups, whole grain and refined, make at least half your grains whole grain. On the label, look for “100% whole grain” on cereals, breads, crackers and rice. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel ― the bran, germ, and endosperm, and are good sources dietary fiber, iron, and B vitamins. Try adding whole grain whole wheat flour, oatmeal, corn meal and brown rice to your family’s grocery list in place of the refined versions.

Protein group: Vary your protein choices, placing seafood twice a week on the plate. Fatty fishes such as tuna and salmon provide omega-3 fatty acids which are associated with heart health. Serve a vegetarian meal once a week featuring beans which are natural sources of fiber and protein. Keep meat and poultry portions small and lean.

Make eggs part of your weekly choices. New research shows that an egg yolk contains 185 mg of cholesterol, easily fitting into dietary guidelines recommendations limiting cholesterol to 300 mg. per day. Only the egg yolk contains cholesterol and saturated fat, so include as many egg whites as you want.

Choose lean cuts of beef, chicken and pork which provide high quality protein and fit into nutrition guidelines. Tip: Look for the term “loin” to help identify the lower fat cuts of meat.

Milk group: Switch to skim or 1% milk which have the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but less fat and calories. Keep milk as the preferred beverage at mealtimes and water for snack time.

Focusing on simple messages

One major complaint of the old MyPyramid was the amount of dietary recommendations provided. Not only were many considered complex and confusing, but the sheer number overwhelmed consumers, causing them to throw in their napkins in frustration.

Enter the era of simple, actionable, doable, easily understood MyPlate food recommendations, launched one at a time. First up: Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. It may be a shock to people to learn much fruits and vegetables they should be eating. But summer’s a great time of the year to start, with the wealth of fruits and vegetables coming into season, and readily available at the supermarkets and the farmers’ markets.

Make a habit of adding fruits and vegetables to family favorite dishes. For example, load up pizza with mushrooms, spinach, sliced squash and chopped tomatoes. Or try topping it with baby arugula and sliced pears. Frozen vegetables are as nourishing as fresh. Keep bagfuls in the freezer and toss handfuls into your soup, casseroles and meatloaf.

Serve fruit-based desserts. Parfaits layered with berries and yogurt is simple and refreshing. And a great treat? Dip some of those strawberries of summer into melted chocolate.

More healthy eating messages

Overall, the new MyPlate is simpler and more understandable than the old MyPyramid. While it doesn’t address exercise, the idea’s to place dietary recommendations within the context of an active and healthy lifestyle, and the actions you take to make good health and food selections for you and your family. Bottom line, MyPlate simply makes it easier to make those food choices.

Keep an eye open in the future as other “eat better messages” roll out, so people can focus on changing one habit at a time. Here are a few:

  • Enjoy your food but eat less
  • Avoid oversized portions
  • Make at least half of your grains whole grains
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk
  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals – and choose food with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

For more information on MyPlate go to www.choosemyplate.gov. Check out healthy MyPlate recipes. And you can connect with @MyPlate on Twitter.

One thought on “Dishing on the USDA new food icon, MyPlate

  1. John Monday

    I know a lot of folks who don’t eat eggs (they’re allergic, for health reasons, or concerns about animal cruelty). Here’s an awesome site that gives tips on cooking and baking without eggs: http://EggFreeLiving.com

    Reply

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