I’m sure you’ve heard that the USDA unveiled its new dietary guidelines yesterday, ditching the “MyPyramid” graphic for the new “MyPlate” graphic (see comparison below).
MyPlate versus MyPyramid
Let’s face it – the previous pyramid graphic was incredibly confusing and this one seems a little more helpful in that it clearly illustrates that half of a person’s plate should consist of fruits and vegetables.
In addition to the graphic, the USDA spelled out some recommendations, which I’ve listed, verbatim, below:
- 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.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who at first scratched her head and asked, “Who cares? Who trusts the USDA anyway? Who really uses these graphics to determine how they, and their families, should eat?”
But, after thinking about it – I guess I care because I know that these stupid little graphics become ubiquitous. I know that before we know it, every new cereal box in the grocery store will wield a picture of the plate and boast (especially since the plate simply says “grains” and every cereal by virtue of it being a cereal can fit this category. d’oh!). And that damn “dairy” circle. You know we’re going to start seeing milk commercials boasting their own little category in healthy eating. Oh wait, they’re already banking on it [see here].We can guarantee that this new MyPlate is going to show up everywhere. How can we guarantee that? Well, the USDA budgeted 2 million to create, research and promote the new logo, per Robert C. Post, deputy director of the Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, quoted in the New York Times [here]. Holy marketing dollars! I also know that while I may think that the USDA’s recommendations are pretty commonsensical, I simply have to watch an episode of Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” to have a wake up call and know that common sense is about as common as finding tact in an episode of “The Real Housewives.”
As Fooducate notes, we shouldn’t really trust the USDA to tell us what to eat since they have a vested interest in the success of particular industries, including the dairy and meat industries. The USDA’s goal, after all, is to promote Big Ag and food sales in the U.S. So, it’s kinda like trusting the NRA to tell us how to spend our defense budget. Neal Barnard, president of the vegan group PCRM, commented on this discrepancy, writing, “While the USDA’s plate encourages fruit and vegetable consumption and advises Americans to limit high-fat products like meat and cheese, federal agriculture subsidies do exactly the opposite: They spend billions of dollars promoting production of high-fat, high-calorie food products” [see here]. That said, I think these changes can prompt us to ask bigger questions: can we anticipate changes in the USDA? Perhaps subsidizing specific farmers or the veg industry? That may be too optimistic for now (I mean the “dairy” circle is a pretty clear indicator that they’re not ready to release certain ties), but I’m still optimistic…
So, in the spirit of optimism, I’ll say that I think it’s a great improvement to see that instead of using the word “meat,” the USDA used the word “protein.” Even though we get protein from grains, fruit and veg, I can appreciate that certain food stuffs have more protein per volume than most items in those categories. I get it. I also think it’s great to tell people to ditch the soda, to eat less sodium and to eat less in general.
I’m kinda lonely over here on the side of optimism, though, because there’s been a lot of cynicism about the new graphic. In a Yahoo.com article, author Drew Taylor remarked, “A simple icon cannot undo decades of growing portion sizes and unhealthy habits, but MyPlate seems like a colossal waste of money. Busy or not, we have to spend some time learning about nutrition and portion control. Otherwise, we cannot manage our food options” [source]. In less cynical stances, others have simply remarked that the new graphic would be better if it spelled out portion sizes.
Here’s my thought — no shit a “simple icon” isn’t going to magically undo our fast-food reliance and addiction. Did Drew think that any government-sponsored graphic could undo its own economic foundation? Let’s be real. And maybe those 2 million dollars could have been better utilized. But why piss on something that is clearly a step in the right direction?
And, when it comes to the lack of portion size clarity, I think the point is that if you’re filling half of your plate with fruits and veggies (hopefully neither drenched in butter or sugar), then you’re making a vast improvement to the Standard American Diet. Plus, I think it’s better to approach these things in a less prescriptive and dictatorial manner.
That said , if you are interested in how exactly to eat more whole grains, click here; how to manage portions, click here; how to get non-meat protein, click here; and how to compare non-dairy milks, click here. I couldn’t help myself. While the USDA is being smart by being less prescriptive, I certainly can’t help myself
What do you guys think about the new MyPlate?
The Cranky One