Food pyramid bites the dust

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An iconic symbol has received a government makeover.

Released last week by First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a new icon called MyPlate has replaced the traditional food pyramid. Similar to the pyramid, MyPlate illustrates healthy and appropriate food portions, emphasizing the fruit, vegetable, grains, protein and dairy food groups. The hope is the graphic change will help people better understand what they put on their plate directly affects their health.

“This is a quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods that we’re eating,” said Obama in a news release. “As long as [plates are] 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.”

The MyPlate icon accompanies the government-issued 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provides evidence-based nutritional guidance. The guidelines and MyPlate icon are part of an initiative to promote health, reduce the risk of chronic diseases and reduce the prevalence of overweight and obesity through improved nutrition and physical activity.

“With so many food options available to consumers, it is often difficult to determine the best foods to put on our plates when building a healthy meal,” Vilsack said in a news release. “MyPlate is an uncomplicated symbol to help remind people to think about their food choices in order to lead healthier lifestyles.”

The MyPlate initative encourages people to make half of their plate fruits and vegetables and at least half of their grains whole grains. In addition, people should eat less, avoid over-sized portions, switch to fat-free or low-fat milk, be aware of sodium intake and drink water instead of sugary beverages.

The biggest difference between the food pyramid and food plate is the graphic display.

“The supporting science hasn’t changed,” said Lora Beth Brown, an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Science. “The new icon is just more simple and intuitive for consumers.”

Pauline Williams, an assistant teaching professor in the NDFS department, said the new graphic is more user-friendly.

“It’s the same concept dietitians have been teaching for years — to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains,” she said. “The MyPlate icon shows very clearly how people should balance their calories.”

At the new website, choosemyplate.gov, consumers can create a personalized diet plan, read tips of the day and download recipes for healthy options such as tomato soup, salad, cobbler, casserole, chili and pudding.

“It’s a useful resource for consumers who are interested,” Brown said.

Nikki Zimmerman, a public health major, agreed the MyPlate image is a more appropriate graphic.

“People don’t eat off pyramids, they eat off plates,” she said. “It’s more helpful in visualizing the proportions of food we should eating.”

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