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Introducing "My Plate" | June 8, 2011

Goodbye “Food Guide Pyramid” and hello “My Plate.” Last week the USDA unveiled a new icon to replace the complicated and confusing pyramid.  The new icon is a plate divided into four sections, with fruits and vegetables on one half and protein and grains on the other. A circle for dairy – indicating a glass of milk or container of yogurt – sits to the right of the plate.


The food guide pyramid was introduced in 1992 as a way to break down the six food groups. The pyramid replaced the “basic four” and the old food wheel.  Later, in 2005, the pyramid was redesigned using a symbol that was too difficult for most individuals to read and understand.


The new plate symbol comes as part of a healthy eating initiative released with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines.  The guidelines outline six recommendations to support more nutritious, balance diets. They encourage Americans to avoid oversized portions, make half their plate’s fruits and vegetables, choose water over sugary drinks and switch to fat-free or low-fat milk.


The new icon is designed to place more emphasis on fruits and vegetables. It’s also family friendly and will hopefully help families make wiser choices.  Parents can use the new tool to scan their children’s plates and make sure they are half full of fruits and vegetables.

At the University of Idaho, we have been using the plate method for diabetes education for many years.  Most dietitians and health educators will agree that the plate is far better than a pyramid in helping visualize what the composition of meals should look like. The only caution is to watch how large the plate is!


Looking at the plate symbol alone however is not enough for people to determine what to eat.  To help understand how to make healthful choices, go to the website (www.choosemyplate.gov) of the US Department of Agriculture, and click on each section of the plate.  One thing missing from the plate is dessert and there is no mention of oils or dietary fats of any kind. (Food with both protein and fat – like nuts and red meat – fall into the protein category.)


There will be new educational tools rolled out later this summer for those who educate adults and children about eating healthier.  The UI dietetics students presented a community educational forum last fall and used the plate method as a visual. I remember one of the women in the class saying, “I get this – why didn’t I think of this before, it’s so easy.”  Let’s hope this new visual is equally as enthusiastically embraced by the rest of America!