Food Pyramid Ditched in Favor of MyPlate

The Food Guide Pyramid is history.  While it has been around for several decades, the Pyramid’s impact on America’s eating habits has been minimal.  The USDA announced recently the demise of the Food Guide Pyramid in favor of a new, easier to understand symbol: MyPlate.  This icon aims to help American’s make healthier food choices.

Problems with MyPyramid

One criticism of the Food Guide Pyramid and MyPyramid, the most recent version released in 2005, was its complexity. Confusing to most consumers, the Pyramid was too complicated to convey much useful information. One aim of MyPlate is to offer an easily understandable, practical icon to guide eating choices. While it offers much less detail than MyPyramid, the MyPlate symbol is more memorable and likely more meaningful for consumers.

MyPlate message

MyPlate is exactly what it sounds like—it’s a picture of a plate divided into sections that symbolize food groups.  The basic principles of MyPlate are straightforward: half your plate should be fruits and vegetables, and the other half divided between grains and protein—one fourth for each. To the side of the plate is a small circle, representing dairy foods.

The MyPlate icon lacks specific guidance on the daily amounts needed from each food group.  Not all foods we eat come neatly organized on an appropriately sized plate. But what MyPlate lacks in detail it makes up for in simplicity—the old pyramid provided this detailed information, but because many did not understand or use it, the symbol itself was largely ineffective.

What MyPlate means for your plate          

So what does the new MyPlate mean for your eating habits? The answer is it depends. Those following previous dietary recommendations likely already have a plate reflective of the new MyPlate image. And in reality, the details behind the graphic remain the same. Despite the new look, the diet specifics provided at ChooseMyPlate.gov are indistinguishable from those of MyPyramid.  The difference is when you sit down to dinner, instead of converting your food to colored stripes on a pyramid, you can compare what’s on your plate to a plate—much more practical.

Size matters

One goal of the government’s dietary recommendations is to reduce obesity rates. The impact of MyPlate on your waistline depends in part on one important variable—the size of your plate. Portion sizes still matter. Even if the foods on your plate look like MyPlate, a plate too large may provide extra calories resulting in weight gain. If watching your weight, one easy approach is to watch the size of your plate. Many dieticians recommend use of a 9-inch plate, a bit smaller than the average American dinner plate.

Only time will tell if MyPlate is successful at improving our nation’s eating habits.  For now, one advantage of MyPlate is its immediate relevance.  Its principles can be applied at your next meal. And maybe even better, MyPlate’s simplicity will make its message easier to convey to kids. Research shows that eating habits established in childhood can last a lifetime—both good and bad. If you live with kids, help them follow MyPlate at meal time by offering plenty of healthy options.

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