Hello MyPlate. RIP MyPyramid. Five Comments

Yesterday, at a Washington DC press conference, The First Lady and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled the government’s newest effort to get Americans eating right – My Plate (see www.choosemyplate.gov)

“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,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “When mom or dad comes home from a long day of work, we’re already asked to be a chef, a referee, a cleaning crew. So it’s tough to be a nutritionist, too. But we do have time to take a look at our kids’ plates. As long as they’re half full of fruits and vegetables, and paired with lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, we’re golden. That’s how easy it is.”

But more important than the plate’s cute graphic, the are several clear and direct messages added on:

Balancing Calories
●    Enjoy your food, but eat less.
●    Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase
●    Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
●    Make at least half your grains whole grains.
●    Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Foods to Reduce
●    Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals ― and choose the foods with lower numbers.
●    Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

This is a much clearer set of instructions than anything previously put forth by the government.

We like it that for the first time, the USDA is telling people that we have to eat less! Switch to water instead of all those liquid candies. And watch out for sodium. Kudos.

Five thoughts on our new plate:

1. Conflict of Interest. With all due respect, the USDA should not be the government body dishing out (pun intended) nutrition advice. As we mentioned a few days ago, it’s not a good idea to have the same organization that promotes agricultural and food production and sales be the one telling us what’s healthy to eat. The interest groups representing the dairy, beef, and other industry have a profound impact on the recommendations by the USDA. Minutes after the USDA press conference was over, we received a pitch from a Washington Dairy Association encouraging people, per MyPlate (and glass) to consume even more dairy products:  Dairy is a must have for strong bones, they wrote. While we certainly have nothing against dairy products, how does most of Asia manage to have healthier bones than us, barely consuming any dairy at all?

2. Plate Size. There is no graphic pertaining to the  plate size. One of the things we’ve seen over the last few years is that portion sizes have increased. Even if you eat in the exact proportions that the USDA recommends, if you’re consuming more daily calories than your body needs, you WILL gain weight. To the USDA’s credit, one of the recommendations is very clear on this – “Avoid oversized portions”.

3. Whole Grains. The “grains” part of the plate should have said “Whole grains”. We really need to get more fiber running through our gut. Whole grains contain fiber and numerous other nutrients in their natural state, not as add-ons through enrichment and fortification. Food with whole grains tend to be less processed and more nutritious.

4. Three Minutes of Glory. The new plate will be getting plenty of media attention in the coming days and weeks. But then it will die off. And since the government budget for advertising is less than Dairy Queen’s weekly billboard budget, most consumers will forget about these recommendations. MyPyramid was the big savior back in 2005. Lots of smart PhDs worked on developing it. It launched with a splash and was quickly forgotten. Now it’s being tossed into the garbage pail of nutrition education history. How will MyPlate fare 5 or 10 years down the road? Will be interesting to see this play out.

5. No exercise. There is no mention of physical activity as there was with MyPyramid. That’s a good thing. One of the most disturbing aspects of the junk food industry is blaming overweight consumers for being lazy. Not that exercise is not wanted, but when it comes to food recommendations, let’s focus on food.

What to do at the supermarket:

As always, food marketers will find a way to spin the newest recommendations in their favor. So be on alert, and don’t let any new fancy graphics throw you off. Always be sure to read the nutrition label and the ingredient list

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  • Paty

    i totally agree with you!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kenleebow Ken Leebow

    Related to whole grains, when you dig a little deeper at the site it says at least 50% should be whole grains … the other can be refined … not a good idea.

    I know all experts state: “Eat Less”, however, that implies willpower and deprivation. Not a good way to approach lifestyle change. Also, if you are eating foods that promote health, you can eat more. And that’s a wonderful thing!

    I’m happy to share that information at my site: Life without Lipitor … http://www.LifewithoutLipitor.com 

  • Karyn

    The one thing I might have done differently, to make a more memorable graphic, is to depict images of food instead of abstract blocks of color.  On the other hand, by not depicting any “representative” foods it does avoid biasing towards any particular food in a given food group, thus avoiding warfare between groups such as meat-eaters, fish-eaters, and vegetarians. ;-)

    I’ve also seen a suggestion, somewhere in recent discussion of this subject, that fruit should be at the side of the plate, with half the plate comprised of vegetables; however, that would also depend on the meal.  I tend to eat fruit for breakfast and vegetables for lunch and dinner.  Showing vegetables as a proportionately larger part of the diet than fruit is a good thing, as is the use of proportions to suggest the balance of the various dietary elements.

    Finally, on the subject of whole grains, I do think there’s some room for allowing occasional refined grains in the diet–pasta comes to mind as one example, or desserts–but I do agree that whole grains should be the predominant source of grain in the diet, not just “at least half.”

  • Prwhiz

    No room on the plate for healthy fats/oils?

  • Nina

    I believe China consumes dairy in the form of powdered calcium (or powdered milk)….they’re consuming dairy for their strong bones, just in a different form. 

  • Erika Tribett

    I’d like to add a #6- Hydrate with water!

  • Februarystars

    Here is the thing: people who are interested (or, like me, obsessed with) label-reading, eating clean and educating themselves about nutrition are not going to get their advice from the government, which, as well all know, is in deep as the center pit of Hell with Big Food.  And the majority of the population is going to glance at the new recommendations and go about their merry way thinking that Special K cereal bars and diet Coke are a good way to lose weight.  It won’t make a dent of difference.

  • Regan Jones

    I agree with a number of the points you have made. Unlike most of my colleagues (who I very much respect and appreciate but just see this issue differently), I agree that this is not the place to educate about exercise. 

    Yes. By all means… physical activity is of paramount importance in fighting the obesity problem. But what’s on your plate is about what’s on your plate. What you do in the hours in between is another issue and one that is best addressed and deserving of it’s own initiative. JMO. 

  • suzyblue

    I find this a bit disingenuous. “eat less” is all very well but we are totally out of touch with what is normal. The endless round of food food food that tends to go along with the developed worlds lifestyles encourages a constant background behaviour- eating, rather than food being a focus at mealtimes and then forgotten the rest of the time.

    Also- fat free and very low fat milk (1%) may not be as good as its sold to be. We need fat to help absorb nutrients- including the calcium from the milk- and as far as that is concerned you might as well be drinking water.  (Putting that in would have been a very good idea too)

  • Michele Rinck
  • Crazyfirebolt

    Actually, Asians drink tons of milk, and eat a lot of tofu. How do I know? I’m an Asian living in Asia ;)

    • Peggy

      I’m not sure where in Asia you live. In China, in the early 1980′s and Japan, in the early 1990′s, dairy was no place in evidence, except in inner Mongolia where yoghurt and ice cream were consumed.  Most of my Chinese friends who have immigrated to the US are lactose-intolerant. I’m just curious to know if you are very young or from a country like India where dairy is consumed.  Thanks! :-)

  • Harold Ward

    Eat all you want! Just eat the right foods and you’ll lose weight to boot. Check out 21daykickstart.org like I did and turn your life around.

  • http://www.facebook.com/TheCrixm Temina Troncone

    Sometimes I do wonder what influences are placed on the USDA when they do their nutrition guidelines. Other countries put stress on different things. I know Japan had their push for variety, and other places actually had recommendations for how long women should breast feed. Are they influenced by certain industries as much as we might be in the US?
    It is true that people tend to forget about the guidelines after a short while. I never even heard of MyPyramid until college, and now the whole thing’s turned into a plate.