USDA: Changing the Food Pyramid into a “Food Plate”

On Thursday, the USDA is set to unveil a new and simple graphic to help people choose what food to eat. The useless food pyramid, which has been confusing consumers for over 25 years, will be replaced by something more simple, according to the New York Times:

The circular plate, which will be unveiled Thursday, is meant to give consumers a fast, easily grasped reminder of the basics of a healthy diet. It consists of four colored sections [wedges], for fruits, vegetables, grains and protein, according to several people who have been briefed on the change. Beside the plate is a smaller circle for dairy, suggesting a glass of low-fat milk or perhaps a yogurt cup. read more…

What you need to know:

This is not the first time the USDA is changing the pyramid. Here is a picture of the original pyramid, which actually made some sense showing at the bottom foods that should be consumed more, and at the top food to consume less. The problem with the original pyramid is that it did not differentiate between whole grains and refined grains (white bread for example). And fat is not all bad – for example the fat in avocado, or nut and seeds.

In 2005, the USDA rolled the Pyramid over on its side to create MyPyramid, a totally unintelligible and useless graphic.

The USDA hopes that the new graphic, which reportedly has half of the plate dedicated to fruits and vegetables, can promote better food consumption habits.

But there is a bigger problem here. How can the USDA, a government body set up to promote agriculture and sales agricultural commodities be also charged with health recommendations? There is an inherent conflict of interest in helping farmers sell more corn, soy, and milk and at the same time helping people consume less food.

The government efforts are but a tiny drop in an ocean of savvy food marketing. Don’t hold your breath or expect the new campaign to instantly help America make better choices.

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  • Laura Pitois

    As a nutrition educator, I never had a problem teaching kids as young as 4 the Food Guide Pyramid. I don’t know why people hated it so much. I am not looking forward to replacing all my expensive Food Guide Pyramid teaching materials with the new food plate.
    As an English speaker, I will point out that you meant ‘roll the pyramid over on its side’, not “it’s side”. Also, ‘avocado’ is not a proper noun and therefore doesn’t need to be capitalized.

    • Fooducate

      Thanks for the copyediting!

      • Laura Pitois

        Happy to help! I enjoy this blog.

  • Lisa Eaton Wright

    “Don’t hold your breath or expect the new campaign to instantly help America make better choices.”  While I’m not holding my breath, this is a welcome change!  It’s much easier to translate food and nutrition messages using a plate than it is a pyramid. 

  • Rachel Assuncao, Health Coach

    Although I heartily agree that the USDA has a serious conflict of interest – both telling people what to eat, and ensuring Big Ag continues to be profitable – it sounds like this new plate idea is a big step in the right direction. I’d like to pause for a moment to appreciate it.

    Having a simple breakdown of what a healthy plate should look like is such an easy solution.  I’ve been teaching that way with my health coaching clients for a long time now because it’s much easier to remember than any other model out there.  The next critical step is focusing on what constitutes food – whole and minimally processed foods all the time for optimum health.

    The Pyramid chart is too difficult for most people to follow.  Remembering how big a serving is, when they vary from item to item within a category and sometimes whether or not the food is raw or cooked, how many servings you should eat as a goal in a day as well as how many you’ve already eaten is confusing.  It also doesn’t take into consideration all of the variables in different diets – vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, etc. It’s definitely a good thing that this model is being retired.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the details in what they’ve cooked up!

  • Mike Lieberman

    Yes this might be a “step in the right direction” (a teeny step be it), but how much of our tax dollars went into funding this, when the larger issue of conflict of interest still looms. 

    Are we going to continually be overjoyed with these small victories when there are much larger things factoring in?

    I’m all for celebrations, but let’s not get blinded by them.

  • Jason Tucker

    I wonder if the new chart will still have a ridiculously high amount of processed carbs in it. The food pyramid currently recommends 6-11 servings per day of bread, cereal, rice, and pasta. Sounds like the government just wants to make americans fatter, not more healthy.

  • Lisa

    What happened to the fruit and veg and bread flip? I thought they’d changed it so that the base was f&v. No?

  • Know Food Now

    I understand that the plate will be a simple visual. But using it already seems complicated.  I look forward to learning how to place cooked combinations of foods in their proper nutritional  slots, and for specific instructions for coping with cereal and soup.

    Certainly the icon can be a stimulus for marketers of dinnerware and writers of recipes. Just as we don’t cook like our Mother’s, food preparation will need to change. Don’t pass the salt, please!

  • Melanie Randolph

    Help! need teacher resources for 1st grade!