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June 9, 2011

Goodbye, (USDA) Food Pyramid. It Was Nice Knowing You. ~ Ariel Scott

Photo: Evan Wood

USDA Serves Up New Dietary recommendations with MyPlate

Last week, the USDA officially retired the food pyramid as a reliable source of daily food recommendations and introduced MyPlate, a plate icon that visually distinguishes how much of each food type we should eat daily. (And just when we started to have that rocking pyramid memorized, too!)

With First Lady Michelle Obama at the helm of tackling America’s obesity problem with Let’s Move!, MyPlate represents a leaner, trendier way to eat (and stay) healthy.

The new visual features a plate with color-coded daily food portions making it quite easy for people of all ages to understand.

At the unveiling last week, Michelle Obama said, “MyPlate is a simple tool that’s simple enough for children to understand even at the elementary school level. Kids can understand how to use this tool now, and they can use it for the rest of their lives.”

Even though MyPlate is based on a new set of dietary guidelines, serving sizes aren’t transferrable to everyone, given the population’s varying nutritional needs. Age and health can alter serving size proportions of the five food group divisions, and people with specialized diets or food allergies might not be able to tolerate some categories all together (ahem, dairy).

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The new image is part of an overall campaign by the USDA to encourage consumers to rethink mealtime.

With the launch of MyPlate, the USDA is focusing on incorporating these messages:

  • Balance Calories
    • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
    • Avoid oversized portions.
  • Foods to Increase
    • Make half of your plates fruits and vegetables.
    • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
    • Make at least half of your grains whole grains.
  • Foods to Reduce
    • Compare sodium (salt) in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals, and choose foods with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks

Feedback about MyPlate has been mixed, with some praising the redesign as a step forward in changing America’s eating habits, while others note that the plate visual is a little too simplistic.

Huffington Post and AOL Health contributor Dr. Andrew Weil says there are “cracks” in the plate where the USDA does not accurately distinguish good food from bad. Weil even claims the information is outdated.

He writes, “Until the USDA incorporates all of the latest science in its official recommendations, I encourage you to rely on the Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid as the most comprehensive graphic guide to how to eat for optimal health.”  Awesome, back to the familiar pyramid.

In contrast, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Marion Nestle upholds that MyPlate is progressive and on-target. She says the focus on new nutritional messaging is just as important as the food recommendations.

“We can argue over nutritional details, but I think USDA’s plate-plus-messages works better than anything it has done before,” Nestle writes. “The plate works for health and for disease prevention. It took courage to make half of it fruit and vegetables. That’s real progress.”

Now it’s your turn to weigh in. What do you think of the new USDA food recommendations, messaging and plate redesign?  How would you sum up nutritional guidelines if the job were left to you?

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Ariel Scott heads up all aspects of Boulder-based GoodBelly Probiotic Juice Drinks’ online communications strategies and social media marketing in her role as the Manager of Online Marketing and Consumer Communications. As the “virtual face” of GoodBelly, Scott leads the company’s presence online, serving as the liaison to help energize the GoodBelly community.   Prior to joining the company, she served in a variety of marketing roles for companies including Applegate Farms, Kallari Chocolate, and Traditional Medicinals, and ran the SNAP! Conference for executives in the natural products industry.  Scott holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Skidmore College, and Master of Science in Reproductive & Sexual Health Research from the London School of Hygiene & Topical Medicine. She enjoys spending her free time snowshoeing, cycling, cooking and digging in her garden. Scott is an avid proponent of empowering women to experience the childbirth they desire, serving as a doula and breastfeeding educator to the Denver/Boulder community.  She can be contacted at [email protected].

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