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Ask Julie - My Plate

Every five years, a new set of dietary guidelines is published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS). Their purpose is to translate results from scientific studies on nutrition into something consumers can understand and use to improve food choices and activity patterns with the intent to reduce chronic illness and promote health. The symbol used to accompany the guidelines and has offered consumers a visual cue to help improve food choices has historically been the familiar food guide pyramid, first with its stacked boxes, then with its vertical stripes to represent the food groups. At last, this frequently misunderstood (and less than fully helpful) symbol has taken the shape of something everyone can relate to - a plate! This change comes at an important time in our country's nutritional history - when the health of our population is suffering from the effects of poor diets and physical inactivity. These are the most important factors contributing to our current epidemic of overweight and obesity. Even without obesity, these two factors are associated with major causes of morbidity and mortality in the United States.

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has completely revamped the former My Pyramid web site, giving it a new home at www.choosemyplate.gov.

There are three key messages at the heart of ChooseMyPlate.gov that summarize the new dietary guidelines:

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 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 on the website 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, information about a particular food can be found, a menu can be planned and even personal questions can be answered. Also, the "10 tips nutrition education" series offers ten tips per a variety of topics. Topics cover all the sections of the plate and have specific tip sheets for feeding children, shopping, vegetarianism and more. These could easily be shared as a once a month tip sheet for employees, a payroll stuffer or a staff meeting topic.

A great link to share with employees is found under the Professional Resources section of the site. Clicking on "Getting Started with My Plate" you will see a brochure entitled "Let's Eat for the Health of it". This offers simple, easy to implement steps towards healthier eating.

So, at a time when most people are feeling that they literally have "too much on their plate," it is time to throw out the old and bring in the new with the help of ChooseMyPlate.gov.

Last Updated: 11/28/2011