New Nutritional Icon Steps up to the Plate

A dinner plate divided into recommended food groups replaces the food pyramid as the federally approved symbol of what constitutes a healthful diet. (Image: USDA)

To help consumers make healthier food choices, the federal government has abandoned the much-criticized food pyramid and replaced it with a dinner plate divided into recommended food groups. MyPlate is intended to be an easy-to-understand visual cue to remind individuals that a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins—with a side of dairy—is a healthy diet.

Scrapping the confusing food pyramid, variations of which have been used for 20 years, in favor of a simple dinner plate, is a “home run,” says Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University in New York City. “The message begins with, ‘Enjoy your food,’” adds Nestle, who likes the emphasis on fruits and vegetables—which occupy half of the dinner plate—and the freedom allowed in making food choices among the various categories. MyPlate, she says, “obviates the need to think about portion sizes (except for plate size) and lets people eat what they like within the sectors.”

Nestle does offer a caveat about MyPlate that reflects the ongoing tension between nutritionists and big agriculture. One section of the plate is labeled protein, which might confuse the public, because grains and dairy can provide substantial amounts of protein. Many US consumers also routinely eat more protein than they require. “Protein is not a nutritional issue,” she explains. “Grains and dairy also provide protein. My guess is that this is a huge compromise around meat.”

MyPlate is just 1 element of the government’s attempt to promote healthy eating and is consistent with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are updated every 5 years by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services. Beyond calling for a balanced diet, the government recommends avoiding oversized portions, making at least half of one’s grain intake whole grains (such as brown rice, oatmeal, and foods made with whole-wheat flour), switching to fat-free or low-fat milk, comparing sodium levels in foods and then choosing those with the least amount of sodium, and drinking water instead of sugary drinks.

Categories: Diet, Nutrition/ Malnutrition, Obesity, Public Health