The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid has been a staple of school cafeterias across the country for nearly 30 years; it was as ubiquitous as the cardboard milk cartons we found on our plastic trays every "macaroni Monday" or "pizza Friday." However, Americans of all ages now have a new – and much improved – healthy eating guide. It's time to come down from the Food Pyramid and enjoy a heapin' helping off of MyPlate.
The original Food Guide Pyramid was first introduced in 1992; it translated nutritional recommendations (based on the prevailing attitudes of the time) into a breakdown of the kinds of foods – and how much of them – we should be eating in a given day. "Get your three to five servings of veggies" became a veritable mantra for parents all over. However, this original incarnation of the food pyramid wasn't without its share of controversy. The meat and dairy industries argued that their sections were given the short end of the stick with a recommendation of only two or three servings a day, as compared to the six to 11 recommended servings of grains.
The calls for change culminated in a revised food pyramid, called, simply, MyPyramid. MyPyramid was introduced in 2005 and featured vertical sections that were color-coded to reflect each food group. Though this constituted a major change, it certainly wasn't a change for the better: This pyramid lacked clear, tangible information, and was generally difficult to understand. As such, it was heavily criticized by health practitioners for its lack of usability. The sole highlight of this pyramid was the fact that it mentioned the importance of exercise, which was symbolized by a stick figure climbing up the side of the pyramid.
Now, MyPyramid has been retired. A new icon – MyPlate – has taken on the job of educating everyone about healthy food choices. MyPlate features a dinner plate divided by differently sized and colored sections that indicate the suggested proportions of the essential food groups. Half the plate is sectioned to feature fruits and vegetables, and the other half is divided between protein and grains. A small blue circle on the upper right-hand side of the plate reminds us to include low-fat dairy. MyPlate helps raise awareness about portion control, which is no small issue, given that plate sizes have swelled in size since the 1950s.
MyPlate is a part of a larger campaign for healthier eating; the USDA has also unveiled a $2 million website designed to spotlight the new federal dietary guidelines that were published this past January. Michelle Obama has been instrumental in publicizing the MyPlate campaign to piggyback her "Let’s Move" initiative against childhood obesity.
The new website and guidelines include some truly smart tips that we would all do well to follow:
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid super-sized portions.
- Enjoy tasty meals, but just eat less of them.
- Switch to low-fat or fat-free dairy.
- Read labels and pick foods with less sodium.
- Quench thirst with water instead of sweet drinks.
This is the first time the word “enjoy” has been included in the government recommendations, which is truly monumental. The take-home message is that being conscientious of what and how much goes into your mouth doesn't mean you have to strip the fun out of your diet. Check out the new plate at http://www.choosemyplate.gov/ and see for yourself.
-Written by Melissa Majumdar, R.D., L.D.N., C.P.T., Bariatric Dietitian at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore
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