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:
● 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