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Out with The Pyramid... In with The Plate

Julie Funk, MS, RD, CDE, LDN
Director, Community Health and Wellness Services

My Plate GreenFor many years the familiar symbol of the food guide pyramid, first with its stacked boxes, then with its vertical stripes to represent the food groups; has graced the wrappings of many of our favorite foods and most pieces of nutrition information. But did you ever really understand how to use it to help guide your food choices? Finally, this frequently misunderstood (and often less than helpful) symbol has taken the shape of something everyone can relate to - a plate! This change comes at an important time in our nation's nutritional history, a time when our health as a nation is suffering from the effects of poor food choices and a couch-potato mentality, the most important factors contributing to our current epidemic of overweight and obesity. Even without overweight, a poor diet and lack of adequate physical activity are the two factors most associated with major causes of illness and death in the United States.

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has completely revamped the former MyPyramid web site. Its new home is ChooseMyPlate.gov. Here consumers can access the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. The Dietary Guidelines are issued every five years to offer the consumer important science-based nutrition advice to reduce the risk of chronic illness and promote health. ChooseMyPlate.gov helps people to implement the dietary guidelines and offers concrete ways to move towards a healthy diet.

There are three key messages at the heart of ChooseMyPlate.gov. They are:

Balancing Calories:

  • 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

The symbol alone (see above) illustrates some of these messages. For example, it shows half the plate covered with vegetables and fruits. Clicking on and opening up each of the sections on the plate displays a list of best choices and helpful tips to guide consumers to healthy selections. The new site has several great features that make it user-friendly and helpful. One is the "I want to..." section. From here you can look up a particular food, plan a menu and even ask your own question to name just a few of the options. Also, the "10 tips nutrition education" series has a list of many topics, each of which provide ten tips on a topic. Topics cover all the sections of the plate and have specific tip sheets for feeding children, shopping, vegetarianism and more.

So, if you literally have too much on your plate, and it isn't helping you reach your health goals, now is the time to throw out your old plate and bring in the new with the help of ChooseMyPlate.gov. To your health!

Last Updated: 8/19/2011