National Food Icon Takes a New Shape

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Last Thursday I watched First Lady Michelle Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin unveil the new food icon, MyPlate. I love the new icon that replaces the often times confusing MyPyramid image as a visual cue and teaching tool.

The intent of the new icon is to translate the main tips of the newly updated 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans into a visual that helps Americans build healthy diets, one meal at a time. The main take away tips from the Dietary Guidelines are to:
  • Enjoy food but in the correct portion size.
  • Make fruits and vegetables the focus of your meal.
  • Include fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk and dairy products in your meals.
  • Select foods lower in sodium.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
This new icon is another in a long history of USDA Food Guides. In the 1940's visual tools started with the basic seven wheel that quickly became the Basic Four Guide to Good Eating in the late nineteen fifties. This educational tool was used for over twenty years. A fifth group was added in the late 1970's to provide guidance related to recommendations on fats, sweets, and alcohol. The Food Wheel was created in the mid-1980's for use in a Red Cross nutrition course which transitioned into the familiar Food Guide Pyramid in 1992. Although there was an update in 2005 to MyPyramid in an attempt to increase focus on activity, the triangular shape has been the national icon for nearly two decades, until now.

Here are some of the highlights of the new USDA circular icon.

The new MyPlate icon consists of four colored sections intended to teach people to build meals using fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein. There is also a smaller circle for dairy, suggesting a glass of low-fat milk or cup of yogurt for each meal. This visual provides the suggestion of selecting whole foods as the basis for healthy meal planning.

Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. These bright colored sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber should fill half your plate whether fresh, frozen, 100% juice, steamed, or grilled. It is important to note that starchy vegetables are also included in the USDA lists. For those trying to control blood sugar levels, single serving carbohydrate information will be necessary as well for healthful meal planning with medical conditions in mind.

Make at least half your grains whole grains. Grains come in two groups – refined or enriched grains and whole grains. In your quest to get at least three servings or more of whole grains each day, look for the Whole Grains Council stamp on bread and pasta options.

Select all types of proteins. One fourth of the plate is for foods rich in protein. Lean meat is a good protein source as well as other high biological value options such as eggs or cheese. Nuts, nut butter, seeds, soy products, legumes and some grain products are all good protein choices without the meat as well. Selecting non-meat choices several times a week is a great way to move your diet toward a plant-based focus.

Include fat free or low-fat (1%) dairy with your meal. Milk provides nine essential nutrients necessary for health, four of which (calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamin A) are frequently inadequate in an adults diet. The Dietary Guidelines recommend three servings of dairy a day. The USDA considers dairy to include all milks including lactose-free and lactose-reduced products and fortified soy beverages, yogurt, frozen yogurts, diary desserts and cheeses because of their calcium content. Cream, cream cheese, and sour cream would not be included because of their low calcium content.

The Bottom Line
While the USDA does not endorse any products, services, or organizations, they do offer recommendations for good health.
1. Build a healthy plate using the new MyPlate icon as a guide.
2. Cut back on foods high in solid fats, added sugars, (also known as SoFAS) and salt.
3. Eat the right amount of calories for you.
4. Be physically active your way.

We could not agree more with these recommendations and believe the new MyPlate icon will be a great new tool to help Americans build a healthy eating plan, one meal at a time. No icon or visual can tell the whole story without education that offers specific recommendations and guidelines. Here are a couple guidelines to help you make your plate healthy and useful in reaching your weight and health goals.

  • Select a 9- or 10-inch plate for your meal. Take a ruler and measure across the plate to be sure it is no larger.
  • Fill one-half of the plate with vegetables and fruits, either cooked or raw. For those that are trying to control blood sugar responses, fill one-half of the plate with non-starchy vegetables.
  • Fill one-fourth of the plate with a serving of protein such as nuts, nut butter, soy based product or grilled or roasted meat.
  • Fill the last fourth of the plate with a grain selection, whole grain if possible. For those seeking to control blood glucose responses, select a carbohydrate-rich choice equal to 15-grams of carbohydrate from starchy vegetables, fruits, or grains.
  • Add one cup (8 fl oz) of low-fat or fat-free milk or fortified soy beverage or one container (6-8 oz) of light yogurt to your meal.
  • Be sure your meal includes a serving or two of healthy fats from nuts, one or two teaspoons of olive oil, a teaspoon of mayonnaise or a tablespoon of salad dressing.
The new MyPlate icon will most likely serve as a helpful tool for many years to come to help all Americans balance their calories, increase healthy food choices while limiting unhealthy ones. We are very excited for this new educational tool.

What do you think of the new MyPlate icon? How do you think it will help you?

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Wow a lot of very hateful comments from the right I am shocked by the responses very mean spirited people here @ SP Just shocking

I do like this new visual aid its easier to understand as someone else stated plate size does matter I have been using a salad plate instead of a dinner plate Report
I like the colorful Icon and it looks more helpful with sizes & portions of food groups. I have to eat 5 to 6 small meals a day for medical reasons. However this is still helpful for my meals that are not a smoothie or snack. Report
Well i like the visual... But i eat 6 small to 8 very small "meals" if u can call them that a day lol so it really doesnt help. Itd be like 3 strawberries, 1/2 c broccoli, half a sandwich thin, 1/2 c tuna, 1 sip of milk x8 LOL A lil too much to plan out that way. So ill stick w splitting mine up differently :) Report
This is perfect for knowing a rule of thumb for portion sizes! Report
I think the plate idea is easier to understand, since portion sizes are a pretty hard concept to grasp. However, I'm disappointed that the section for vegans is lacking. No mention of quinoa as a protein source and more of an emphasis on ovo-lacto vegetarians. The government couldn't get decent info from PCRM? Report
Clever ... much easier to visualize! Report
I like the new icon. As soon as I saw it, I too, thought that plates with this design would be a good idea. I even contacted a paper plate manufacturer about the idea. I disagree that the image is too have to get folks attention first and I think the MyPlate does. Report
This is how my nutritionist explained my meal planning to me which is very, very important to someone like myself whose body is attacking their own liver! I find it much easier to understand. Being from Canada I don't see the how M. Obama condoning this is hurting anyone but if you choose to take offense then perhaps you aren't listening to the real message. Report
While I recognize this as a good visual and a healthy goals, this goal changes every 10 to 20 years to fit the "now" view point. It is difficult to change a mind set that had been "crammed" down our heads for years. I am trying. Report
Some one should make plastic plates with the divisions and colors. Wow, then even I could figure it out, each time I eat. (note: these plates are for your own home use and not used for dinner guest) lol

Now that would be easy math of what and approx. how much to put on your plate. Report
This sure makes life easier!
This makes so much more sense! It will be easier to decipher what makes a healthy meal. Report
As a visual person, I love it. Report
I like the new look of the plate, it makes much more sense then the pyramid. Since joining sparkpeople, I've learned so much about portion control looking at the new plate I would for myself use a smaller plate, I weigh & measure everything that goes into my body. I drink water all day long to stay hydrated. You do your best and don't obsess that's what I have to do each day.

Many Blessings Always Debby Report
Love the circular symbol - easier to relate to as our plates aren't shaped like triangles (usually) Report
Do what you will, when you will for whatever reason you will, but remember the hand pointing the finger has three fingers pointing back at 'self'. It's YOUR choice and only a suggestion. Be responsible for your own health and own it!
I like the plate imagery for it's simplicity and might use it to teach grandchildren how to dish up their plates.... but also teaching consequences is part of life.
"Eat your Veggies" is my main focus!! Report
This makes more sense to me than the pyramid. Wish "they" thought of this when I was a kid! Report
It is not my intention to get political, so please don't take it that way. I studied to nutrition and Michigan State University for a little while, and it is true that what was the food pyramid at the time (now a plate), is a piece of legislation, and it is in fact influenced by lobbyists (American Dairy Farmers etc). We were taught the guidelines that were provided by the World Health Organization would be slightly more accurate because it did not have the same influence. That being said, regardless if the United States says to have one more serving of dairy per day (or whatever) than the WHO, it is still a good tool and would have Americans eating much more healthier than we are as a whole right now. It's not about the government "telling us what to eat" - besides, like I said, a vast majority of Americans eat nothing CLOSE to that. As far as the new plate design is concerned, I think it is great for younger children, but a tad over simplified and more detailed nutritional information should be taught when children get older. That's just my opinion. Report
I have seen this before in Canada. I went to a few nutrition classes and while the food guide in Canada still looks more like a rainbow with the serving range marked for each category according to sex and age, the nutritionist showed us the plate as an easy way to get it right if you don't want to count and measure your servings every time. If I am making a more difficult meal with multiple foods, I follow this plate pretty much and while it might look a lot of vegetables or salad on the plate, I just remind the person that this is where you can eat more of it and not take in as many calories. I am all for the plate! Fantastic idea. For those eating take out however, it won't work so well. Eat at home. Know what's going in your mouth! Report
Good job! My brain relates to this visual a whole lot better than the pyramid. Saves on scales, measuring cups and a bunch of wasted steps and the time it takes to find the scale and measuring cups, get all of the stuff out, use it, wash it then put is back. I like very much the one simple swoop from food prep to plate.
As far as this being a political thing; I don't see it. I can't insult the government for this one (even though I'm a diehard republican). It's a scientific fact that diet can heal or cause disease. If you continue to eat unbalanced and junk you will get cancer, heart disease, diabetes etc and you will continue to be fat. And I would like you to know that tax payers resent paying for your $3000/mo. drugs, your 100,000's of thousands of dollars in hospital stays and the many unnecessary doctor visits. Is it ok for the government to pay for you but not give you any intelligent advice to save the taxpayers an absolute ton of money?
Sorry… I got on my band wagon. I am fortunate enough to be one of the few raised by parents that had our family’s health as a top priority; accomplishing this by eating exactly the way the new plate icon portrays. And yes they both worked but time never seemed to be an issue, only eating healthy. I have my parents to thank for my intense interest in diet.
I'm glad to see some focus pulled away from pushing carbs, carbs, carbs! Stable blood sugar is important yet we push artificial chemical sweeteners (I am of the camp if nature doesn't make it/feed it i.e. fruits, veggies, animals one shouldn't eat it). Honestly, the food pyramid was confusing for many and it was only based on one caloric range. What about a seven year old? I honestly for a school project once followed the food pyramid for one week. I couldn't eat the amount of foods it suggested. For most that don't measure out food and are aware of portion sizes the plate is a great visual...guess what it has been advocated on this site before this was unveiled! I use it when I am at a buffet style eating situation and I can't measure out portions. It has served me well and frankly is easier for parents.
As for the ridiculous political rants, people need to learn to detach their political feelings about a person/group, and acknowledge they aren't going to make you happy/angry all the time. I find good things in presidents I disliked in general and I find things I dislike in a president that I admire in general. First wives take projects while their husband's are in office: Laura Bush had childhood literacy which bled over into her husband's "No Child Left Behind" and Nancy Reagan had the "Just Say No" program which bled into the War on Drugs.
The federal government controls what you see on TV, hear on the radio and what you can purchase in stores, they do control many things, but how you portion your plate is not one of them. They are not installing cameras in homes to ensure the plate is followed it is a guideline just like the presidential fitness exam children take. Remember the BMI index was a study funded by the government..... the bulk of research grants in this country come FROM the federal government! Report
I LOVE the new design. I took my 3 year old grandson to a health fair this past weekend and one of the booths had the new design as a mat the kids could color, when they were done it was lamented and becomes a plate mat for the dinner table. When I took him home we used it to fill his dinner plate. Report
I don't live in the US but I agree with GHOGLEY that any government initiative that tries to promote healthy eating is worth at least looking at - whether you agree or don't agree in the end is your choice just as it was (dare I say it) when you were putting on the weight and making less than heathy choices.
lana 22 Report
I, too, love the lively placesetting icon. Maybe school cafeterias should use plates like the logo on a daily basis to teach children about portions. Seeing this iconic plate filled with the correct foods and portions daily during the elementry school years should help to ingrain what are healthy eating habits. Report
I hate that people are making this a political issue. Way to be lame, guys. Report
Personally, I was a fan of the food guide pyramid, as well as the USDA website built around it (just a tip, the USAID database of nutritional values on their website, is MUCH more comprehensive than Spark's). I am unlikely to eat all 5 food groups in one meal, and I think most people are the same. What is important is that over the course of the day, you are getting enough foods from the various food groups to meet your daily needs, and over the course of a week, you should be getting enough variety in the different types of foods you eat (e.g. leafy greens, orange-fleshed foods, etc.)

I work in nutrition, and live in Africa. The country where I live also has a food guide, and recommendations that are used to educate the public. It's not some sort of "Big Brother" situation, as some people seem to be insinuating in the comments here. A healthy populace is extremely important for the security and economic well-being of a nation. Poor nutrition and obesity cost the US huge amounts of money each year in increased health care costs and lost productivity. So of course it is in the government's interest to try to promote good health among its citizens. Believe me, every nation around the world does the exact same thing. And all these other countries have also lerned that having a high-profile spokesperson (such as the First Lady) increases the likelihood that people will listen.

I'm amazed that people can take such a simple public health issue as healthy eating, and turn it into a partisan issue, or worse, some sort of sinister government conspiracy. I'm quite certain that the groundwork for these new guidelines have been underway for quite a long time (these things do not change in a year or two, and yes, there are typically countless nutrition and health experts who contribute to the process) so most likely the USDA was also working towards revising the national food guide under the Bush administration as well. Report
Sheesh, there are so many people here arguing over something that they probably don't follow anyway. How many of you who are complaining that the First Lady is trying to shove her diet ideals down your throats follow the food pyramid?

I don't think this is a big deal for grown adults. Where it will matter is school lunches and what portion of what the serve comes from grains, proteins, veggies, and fruit.

It's a guide. Follow it if you want to, if not then move on to something else that's actually worth your energy. Go look at a magazine rack, there are plenty of "dietary guides" there, too. Report
Olandbroke- As an American citizen you don't seem to know that much about what your president actually have done, I must say. I hardly knew anything about what Obama had done (and found it hard to find this information online) until my university teacher actually told me what significant things he had accomplished. It hasn't just been in the media as much, and I assume that is why you say that " the Obamas are deceiving the public into thinking that the administration is really accomplishing something worthwhile".

Back to what the topic is really about:My opinion on this subject is that these sort of examples of a meal are good to show people a guideline of what to eat. They don't force people to eat it but educate people how in overall your plate should look like. I believe a lot of parents still don't know this and also if they don't include for example vegetables in their diet that much, their children are going to take after. We went through these sort of examples in school as part of Cooking class and I think most of us students got an idea of what to eat. Report
Although the purpose of the "food plate" is to give Americans a better idea of what to eat, most of us on here have already taken an active role into researching what is healthy eating, unless you blindly follow what Spark recommends.

It is a good tool for giving uneducated people to a place to start when making food choices... and from there hopefully they will do research to know what is better.

I honestly believe that eating that much grains and fruit is not healthy - as TomnJeri said, 3/4 should be vegetables! We need to be eating vegetables, animal proteins and fats, nuts, and healthy oils (NOT canola, soybean, etc). Fruits are okay once in awhile, and under no circumstances is sugar a good idea, nor are grains (like wheat, flour, rice, and corn... yes, corn).

If you are wondering, this is based on the paleo/primal lifestyle... if you haven't heard of it, check out the Primal Blueprint ( /) or Paleo ( /) online! It's the healthiest way to go. Report
I think I prefer the pyramid because it's kind of hard to tell that some of the portions are different sizes. I do like the plate that shows your dinner should be 1/2 veg. with meat and grains on the side. I think this plate with the milk should be what your entire diet for the day looks like. I'm not sure any of it does any good when parents are feeding their kids out of bags and not real/fresh food like we had as kids.

I think none of the political comments belong here on this site, especially on a blog about healthy eating. So the president's wife helped present it, she likes healthy food and is teaching her kids and others how to grow their own healthy food-that's not politics but a mom caring about her family. I find it rather funny that someone complains about her talking healthy eating and then eating chili dogs or something-SO??? Aren't we all told not to punish ourselves by making a certain food taboo? No one eats perfect all the time. Now let's lay off the political stuff here and concentrate on making ourselves healthier, better people. Report
Well, this is depressing. I've got strong political opinions myself but I generally view SparkPeople as a means to get away from all that - to focus on what brings us together, not what divides us.

At any rate, I do sort of agree that the food guide recommendations of the USDA are unduly influenced by major agricultural corporations, but I also think this was a well-intended move to make a dent in our enormous obesity problem. I think I'd go with half a plate of veggies instead of a quarter. As for the size of the plate not making a difference - it certainly does. It's been demonstrated that people who use smaller plates eat less than those who don't. Years ago I switched to 5'' plates and have definitely seen a decrease in the amount I eat because of it. There are all sorts of little tricks we can use to change the way we think about food. This is just one more tool. Report
What a great visual reminder to get people better associated with what a plate of healthy food looks like. Report
This is a great improvement over the pyramid. It is very similar to a visual from a program called Change One for Diabetes. Simple and useful- I like it! Report
To add: I finally read through all of these comments, and I am a bit shocked at all the right-wing political responses. I don't understand how this new eating guide is "the government telling us what to eat". It is no different than the food pyramid. Did you have all this pent-up rage about the food pyramid? This is just the government's recommendations on how to eat healthily, nothing more nothing less.

And where is everyone getting that this guide cost millions of dollars to create? Each first lady has her own platform that she is passionate about. Laura Bush's happened to be child literacy. Michelle Obama's is healthy eating and exercise. I hope this new guide can be used in the schools to make school lunches healthier.

I usually enjoy SparkPeople comments, but for some reason the Tea Party came out of the woodwork for this one blog post.

This is a great guide. I'm so glad they've moved away from the pyramid. I think the USDA is on the right track with this one. Report
Public schools need the feds to tell them what to tell the kids to do. Way it's been for decades, way it's going to stay so long as the country has absentee/uninvolved parents. To that end, this is a better tool for the kids who eat school breakfast, eat school lunch, then have to find their own snacks and dinner before the single parent comes home from work at 11pm. I just wish the plate was smaller. A dinner plate is not an appropriate size. Report
By the way, it hurts to see so many people saying that they don't need the govt. telling them what to eat, that it's their own business, etc. but the ones who ultimately are being hurt are the CHILDREN who's parents have the attitude that what they eat is their own business, and not the USDA or Michelle Obama. Excuse me? Really? Seems to me that a child starting out life OBESE, has little chance to have the great life that most parents envision when they are holding a sweet little newborn in their arms. Do you think that that mom or dad thinks, "hey, lets give him high blood pressure by 9, type-2 diabetes by 11! Woo hoo! Um no, probably not.
The most important thing here is education. Kids are only exposed to what the parents offer. If the parents offer junk on a daily basis, that is what the children know. My kids eat a wide variety of foods, yes we do occasionally have chips or ice cream in the house, but it is a small portion of our diets. Everything in moderation! I don't think anything is wrong with an occasional splurge, it's when the "treat" becomes an everyday thing that I would start to worry.

I wish my family had put such a heavy emphasis on exercise, like they did with eat your veggies! Maybe I wouldn't even be here on this blog right now! lol
Luckily, my kids see Mom getting her but in gear and exercising! I really don't think it's just about what you eat, as everyone here already knows, it's calories in, calories out! If I can gain 90 lbs by sitting on my a$$ for 10 years by eating a clean diet, rich in whole grains, veggies, and lean protein, anything is possible!
I'm showing them that being healthy is packing the 1...2...punch! Just eating well as a child is all they need, since to them exercising is just PLAYING!!! I guess it took me all this time to figure out that I stopped playing YEARS ago, and it was time to get MOVING!!! Report
Geez this is a learning tool, and I think it's a good one! Especially for children. There seems to be an entire generation (mine! Born 1979) that grew up in the pinnacle of processed food! Many children in my son's kindergarten class couldn't identify the veggies on a veggie tray I brought to school for a party! What a shame! Who on earth doesn't know what a tomato or broccoli looks like? We eat a diet high in fruits and veggies, because I know better, but how many kids parents feed them things wrapped in paper from the drive thru? I think it makes it obvious to those children that a happy meal obviously doesn't fit the My Plate scheme. Maybe through simple education plans like these less children will end up being obese, having type 2 diabetes. This is actually the first generation expected to live shorter lives than their parents and grandparents. Hopefully kids will catch on and be on their parents backs the way I was to get my parents to wear seatbelts, which was unheard of before MY generation! Now if we could do something about the crap the school passes as a healthy meal!! Report
I think that I don't need Michelle Obama to raise my kids. Report
This plate exists for the same reason as the food pyramid -- to convince a fattening nation to eat more of the value-added, high-sugar, low-nutrition foods that monoculture factory farms produce. Go ahead folks! Fill half your plate with potatoes and corn and maybe a little iceberg, a quarter of it with "made with whole grain" cereal, a quarter of it with CAFO beef and antibiotic-stuffed chicken, and drink a glass of rBST milk!

Sure, this is an improvement on the food pyramid, which has folks getting 60-75% of their calories from starches, but it's still the same old guidelines -- guidelines that I simply don't trust.

Come on folks. Do you really think that Monsanto and the Cattle and Corn industry lobbies don't have sway over the USDA?? THEY are the ones who put this together, and look how well their recommendations have been working for the last 50 years... Report
I eat about every 3 hours, so I'm not one to have full meals. Report
Excellent! All I have to do is pick out the vegetables, the meats, and the grains from my casserole and arrange them on my plate! Thanks USDA! Now... about the fish we're getting from India... Report
I like this, it's easy to understand! Report
We've come full circle back to the 50i's and now I hope they'll stop messing with it. I do like the simple icon! Report
I would have more respect for something that the medical commuty was involved with not another government intrusion. Report
The mantra of the day seems to be "the less government intrusion, the better"and I agree to a certain extent. I read 1984, like most, and do not want public policy running my life. But when you leave the food industry to police itself, you get really bad food. You get GM foods and hormones and gassed veggies. Anything that will make it more efficient and cheap so that the 4/5 main food companies can make huge profits, the better. Just like banks and insurance companies and the drug companies, greed is the game. We need sensible monitoring of our food supplies to keep e. coli from killing us, the companies do not care. There has to be a balance, as in all things, in the government to regulate and to keep us safe and healthy. We are not forced into complying with this new food chart, it is merely a suggestion for those who need some guidance. Stop screaming "Big Brother" every time our government tries to make things better. Its the corporations that are at the heart of the problems, not our government. We can vote them (the politicians) out, but we can not fire these CEO's who control our interests. Report
It's not really a good guide. This is a dinner plate. Fruit is usually eaten separately usually as an in-between snack. 3/4 of that plate should be vegetables. I don't need Michelle Obama telling me how and what to eat. Stop wasting money on studies that are already in place. Report
This graphic approach is a huge improvement over either of the pyramid graphics that have been used in the past, but the information it represents could still use some help.

Dairy and dairy-replacement products are an option to fulfill certain nutritional needs, but they don't rise to the level of being a requirement that needs to be specifically listed. Grains are being given too much space yet as well.

The naming of one section as "protein" rather than "meat" is a huge improvement since there's no actual need that the protein be meat, but there really should be some kind of emphasis on the fact that it's probably a good idea to eat some healthy sources of fats.

This comes from the Department of Agriculture, so it's not really like it's a surprise that they emphasized some things more than would be ideal in a way that boosts the agriculture industry. This is still a big improvement over their past efforts, so we can hope they'll continue in the direction of providing good health information rather than boosting the industry at the expense of the citizenry. Report
OUA- That kool-aid I'm drinking is sugar free and much healthier, optimistic, and well-rounded than yours. I believe in a government that is present in our life as a source of good. Good- meaning that they check my food for additives that would potentially kill me, give my kids free and reliable resources to learn about nutrition (i.e. this food plate), and provide me with help when I fall on hard times. That's why this is a great nation. We provide for each other. We work for each other. We are not separate units only connected by a border line. We are Americans working together to make our society livable and manageable for all humans.

So I'm going to continue drinking my sweet, sweet kool-aid knowing that, in the end, I'm pro-American values- not just in it for the bottom line.

Oh, and you keep on posting that negative slander you've got going... you're the one making Spark a vile and unwelcoming place.

Grow up. Report
OLDANDBROKE hit the nail on the head. Report
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