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?