No Longer Living Among Pyramids


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In a show of “who’s-who” among nutrition nerds, this morning registered dietitians, nutrition students and other public health professionals gathered around their respective computers to watch the live stream of the USDA’s announcement of the new food icon.

Since 1992 we have lived on the land of the Pyramid. The original black background Food Guide Pyramid was replaced in 2005 with the colorful, rainbow My Pyramid but neither was very clear consumers what is all means.
The “big reveal” this morning wasn’t so much a surprise, as a big relief. The new food icon for the U.S. is a plate! Something every single American can understand. No more pyramids or triangles with confusing lines, but an icon that a child can understand.

The “plate-method” is something that many of us dietitians have used and teaching for a while, years. Just ask my clients and student about my funny so, called circles I would draw to resemble a plate.

Here is the gist of the new food icon, now called ChooseMyPlate:

  • One-quarter of your “plate” or meal should be protein. This means lean beef or pork, chicken or turkey, fish or shellfish, or vegetarian alternatives such as beans, tofu or nuts. Fried? Rarely to never.
  • One-quarter of your meal should be whole grains or your starchy vegetable. This includes whole grain pasta, brown rice, whole wheat rolls or bread, or even the baked potato.
  • One-half of your plate should be a variety of vegetables and fruit. It can be several fruits and vegetables or just two, but it should be half of your meal. Yes, really.
  • Also, on the side, choose a serving of low-fat or non-fat dairy – a glass of milk or some yogurt (with your fruit).

The cool thing about teaching this method to help people eat healthier is that is works for dining out too. I tell people all the time to visualize the plate when they eat out.

Here is how:

When you sit down to eat at a restaurant many times they bring you bread (or chips and salsa) – there is your “grain” or starch. Even if your grains aren’t “whole” every time, it should be most of the time.

Then you get your salad – a veggie.

Now to order your main course: you will get a lot of protein (it happens), usually enough for three or four servings, so take some home. I know most people won’t but it is what I suggest. So, what side do you order, thinking about the “plate” icon? Not the rice (it usually isn’t better) or the potato (remember the bread you already had). That’s right: the steamed vegetables.

So to get the dairy – order the cheesecake or crème brulee for dessert. But share.

Think about the ChooseMyPlate icon with each meal, and then make choices with that in mind. It will help you get your fruits and veggies that everyone needs more of.

While the new food icon isn’t perfect, most of us can truly understand a plate icon over a pyramid icon.

Now if we can actually have our food on plates instead of wrappers and push that plate away more often we would be better off.

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