Patrick J. Skerrett

Crumbling, confusing Food Pyramid replaced by a Plate

The crumbling Food Pyramid and its hip successor (MyPyramid) fell into oblivion yesterday, eroded by the stinging winds of science. Their replacement? A quartered plate called—wait for it—MyPlate that was designed to visually convey the elements of healthy eating to Americans of all ages.

The new icon consists of a white plate divided into four segments: green for vegetables, red for fruits, orange for grains, and purple for protein. Dairy has a prominent place, sitting where a glass of water should be. The hope is that the plate will nudge Americans away from meals dominated by meat and starch and towards meals made up mostly of plant-based foods.

The original Food Guide Pyramid debuted in 1992. It was built on shaky scientific ground. Over the next few years, research from around the world chipped away at the healthy eating message in the pyramid’s base (refined carbohydrates), the middle (meat and milk), and the tip (fats).

The Pyramid got an extreme makeover in 2005. To create MyPyramid, it was flipped on its side (so no food type was on the bottom, and perceived as “worse”), painted rainbow colors, was given a stick figure sprinting up its side, and stripped of any useful information. The million-dollar makeover was a step backward.

MyPlate, by comparison, is a good move. It offers information on portion sizes and sends the message that a balanced meal should be at least half vegetables and fruits.

“Clearly MyPlate will be better than MyPyramid,” nutrition expert Walter  C. Willett told The Nutrition Source. “But the most important issues are in the details that are not captured by the icon. What type of grain? What sources of proteins? What fats are used to prepare the vegetables and the grains?” Willett, who chairs the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, has been a long-time critic of the Food Pyramid. His best-selling book, Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating, details how and why the old pyramids actually contribute to unhealthy eating. (Full disclosure—I co-wrote the book.) Willett’s Healthy Eating Pyramid is based on up-to-date nutrition science.

MyPlate doesn’t show that whole grains are better for you than refined, rapidly digested grains, or that fish and beans are better protein choices than red meat. It doesn’t give any guidance that eating more unsaturated and omega-3 fats is good for health, as is cutting back on saturated fats from meat and dairy.

One thing missing from the place mat is a garbage or compost can for the sugary baked goods, breakfast cereals, and drinks, and the salty processed foods and snacks, that make up a big chunk of the average American’s daily caloric intake.

Although the USDA is trying to make MyPlate sound new. It isn’t. The New American Plate, which the American Institute for Cancer Research developed in 1999, uses an almost identical plate icon to encourage people to eat more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. In the United Kingdom, the Eatwell Plate has served as a pictorial guide to healthy eating.

In spite of their shortcomings, the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate are better than their prior versions. MyPlate is worth teaching in schools and printing on cereal boxes. Whether this will help stem Americans’ frightful eating habits is anyone’s guess.

Comments:

  1. Carla Préstamos Rápidos

    I’m still more or less my-plate method and it feels really bad, but occasionally I spend a bit with the milk fat and abandonment.

  2. Anonymous

    Most people who wants to be healthy and physically fit make their own diet plans for the whole week, avoiding foods, etc.

  3. Heather Smith

    This is a good post, It offers information on portion sizes and sends the message that a balanced meal should be at least half vegetables and fruits.My plate is better than than the food pyramid.

  4. Alessandro Zamboni

    Wow, the idea to change the old pyramid it’s great, and it’s even more clear for anyone in need of remembering the food to get and the food to leave.

    Thanks and see you soon,
    Alessandro

  5. CATRYNA

    Whether they use the pyramid or the plate doesn’t make much difference, if they have the amounts of the different varieties of food wrong. They still have grains or cereals at a huge 25% and just about the same for vegetables. Really, vegetable or vegetation should be more like 75%, with meat at 10-15% and fruit and grains (if grains at all) making up the difference. Fruit and grains should be listed right there with sweets. Think about the breakdown of food, the makeup of grains, vegetation and meat and how our bodies work and digest and you’ll get it right.

  6. Diana

    Eating healthy means roasting instead of frying!
    Yes, avoid all the oil and savor the natural juices of food.
    Before beginning your steamed/ roasted diet, you should first find out how to roast a whole chicken, that way, it’s not gonna be a “hit or miss”.

  7. James

    I make sure to make half my plate fruits and vegetables.
    I also half my grains whole grains, and I’ve recently switched to fat-free or low-fat milk. Here’s to a new me!!!!

    James

  8. Anonymous

    This is great. I always been confuse on the food pyramid now it’s a bit more simple. Super like.

  9. Tomi

    All they running around is hard to eat healthy when you don’t have time to prepare your own food.

  10. Michelle

    I think “My plate” is a great idea to help people know what should be in theirs. It is not always easy to eat healthy when life is moving so fast. We don’t have too much time to prepare meals and half the time we don’t know what is a portion of vegetable or grain product and how many we should have per day. My way of keeping healthy is to use a tool which allows me to build my own food guide and make or find a healthy recipe from that. It tells me how much portions I am supposed to eat. It also let you pick the food you like and says what quantity is a portion.

  11. Mike

    The plate is a better option but the important thing hear is knowing what healthy foods fall in these categories. It is crucial to understand healthy proteins,carbs,and fats in order to make this work. Educating parents and children is the first step to eliminating obesity.

    Mike
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  12. Todd

    Interesting. I did not know they converted to a food plate. It does have some advantages in my opinion.

    Todd

  13. John

    Still foolish. Still owned by the corn and soy growers assn. One day, some day, maybe, saturated fat and monounsaturated fat will be recognized as the primary fuel for most humans. Until then, it is still just an effort to keep us alive as cheaply as possible. Know that the first step to health is reducing insulin demand and removing any food to feed cancer.

    John @ http://health.tnafa.org/

  14. Tim

    I think another thing they neglected to mention was that multi grain is better than single grain because of the fact that multi grain does not trigger the insulin response in the same way as say whole wheat bread does.

    Tim

  15. Shawn

    Hard to believe any nutrition guideline that puts dairy on it, given the independent research about dairy.
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  16. Vincent DelMonte Fan

    If it is a good plan then it is worth to try, we can never say its the best when not tested by a lot of people. Anyhow, smart idea on this myplate. I’m willing to listen.
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  17. Catherine Lin

    The idea of plate is good, but not very clear. For example, in the pyramid, I can know how n=many servings should be intaken for protein, carbonhydrate, or fat. But I can not see the portion for every category. Can you explain more about that and make it mopre practical to be used for public? Thank you.

  18. philip hendon

    Coming from the UK I haven’t seen the UK version but I think it is a great idea, anything that can get people to eat a much more rounded diet has got to be a good thing. Like some of the other comments I also believe what is put into the food is very important as I believe this equally has a bearing on our diets and healthy eating habits.

  19. Anonymous

    Hard to believe any nutrition guideline that puts dairy on it, given the independent research about dairy.

  20. Marc Azada

    I like the food plate better than the food triangle. It is easier to understand and I’m sure the kids would understand it as well.

  21. Shawn

    I understand the importance of healthy eating and that some foods are healthier than others. But what is acceptable to eat today, may be bad tomorrow. I think there needs to be more focus portioning and eating the fewest processed foods possible. (i.e. canned foods, desserts, etc.) However, I like the plate. I think it is easier to visualize than a triangle, especially for young people.

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  22. Tom

    It is about time the food pyramid was replaced. I like the new design, much simpler and conveys a message of well balanced and healthy eating. Great article!

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  23. Lawren

    Hard to believe any nutrition guideline that puts dairy on it, given the independent research about dairy.

  24. PRORehab

    I like it! This is much more realistic and attainable.
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  25. DonaldKiefer

    The new presentation of this food pyramid is much better than how it used to be. It is simpler and very understandable in a way that even little kids won’t be bothered on getting the meaning of it.It is just superb!
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  26. Bob Coffield

    Check out the Portion Plate designed by BeBetter, a company based in Charleston WV where I practice health care law. BeBetter has been selling these plates since at least 2008 when I first became aware that they were selling these plates to help educate adults and children on better portion control. One the features that isn’t built into the new MyPlate is the size/portions that you should eat. The Portion Plate includes these by adding standard images to help visualize the size you should eat – for example a baseball size portion of fruits.

  27. Kay

    If only they’d used the words “whole grains” instead of just “grains” it would be pretty darn good.

  28. Ed

    Still foolish. Still owned by the corn and soy growers assn. One day, some day, maybe, saturated fat and monounsaturated fat will be recognized as the primary fuel for most humans. Until then, it is still just an effort to keep us alive as cheaply as possible. Know that the first step to health is reducing insulin demand and removing any food to feed cancer. The next step is to supply all, repeat, all the nutrients to all the cells in your body. Look again at the Krebs cycle and figure out how to do that and you will know what reverse aging is all about. Good luck, good health.
    Ed

  29. dean reinke

    Heard some good humor on this on the radio. This is not 3 dimensional so you can pile your meats as high as you want and still meet the plate size portion.

  30. Mj

    I actually like it. It’s generic enough that I can more easily individualize counsel according to a person’s specific needs — age, ethnic/cultural background, SES, health priorities, etc. It’s an ‘icon’, not an instruction chart. It’s best used as a visual that can guide folks, kind of subconsciously, to focus on the basics (hence no place for ‘junk’ anywhere to be seen), but it needs, for sure, someone to embellish and explain the ‘details’. Which, imo, is GOOD — because that means whoever is doing the initial counselling will be sure to somehow follow-up to aasess compliance, understanding, results. The key to change Americans’ frightful eating habits is to do as much follow-up as educating.