Marie Gahler, Senior Manager, Weight and Nutrition Education Services:
They got it mostly right. The new My Plate visual released by the USDA June 2nd, represents how Americans should eat and is a vast improvement over the Food Guide Pyramid of years past.
ChooseMyPlate.gov is fresh and clean with plenty of detailed information, yet its based upon a very simple concept. While the visual plate idea has been around for a while, this site offers a comprehensive source of practical information on what foods to choose and how much you need. The home page starts with the key to this eating concept showing a medium-sized dinner plate divided into four sections. This represents what foods should go on your plate in what proportion to the plate itself and to the other food groups. The key is that half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables, and the other half grains and protein. Fruit and protein each take up a little less than a quarter of the plate, while grains and vegetables make up slightly more than a quarter each.
In keeping with the theme of Enjoy your food, but eat less, we are reminded that we need to use moderate-sized dishes and avoid oversized portions in order to help with weight management. This is great practical advice in todays world of huge portions. And if you have shopped for dinnerware in the last couple of years, you know that plate sizes have really grown salad plates are now the size dinner plates were 25 years ago! I am lucky that I bought my set of dishes 26 years ago when I got married, and they are a reasonable size.
I think the plate concept will be so much easier for the general public to interpret and use during their meals. The old pyramid conceptespecially the newer version launched in 2005was very confusing; you practically had to be a registered dietician to understand it. One of my favorite features on My Plate is the Foods Gallery. There it shows portions of real food on a plate/bowl so you can see what a serving really looks like. It also gives the size by inches and weight. It is very helpful to be able to see what a half a cup of rice really looks like in a 6 bowl!
However, there are a couple of areas where I think the bar was set a little low this round. The recommendation is that at least half of your days intake of grains be whole grains. Why only half? Americans dont get the recommended 25-35 grams of fiber daily. Whole grains are a good source of fiber and we eat too much processed flour. Processed grains lose much of their nutrients which then, in turn, have to be added back in!
I also wish there was more information about how drinking your calories does not fill you up! Juice is listed as equivalent to whole fruit, yet it is much less satiating. Juice also is not nutritionally equivalent to eating the whole fruit where many nutrients and fiber are present in the skin.
Lastly, I wish red meat was not the first listing on the protein page. Fish or healthier animal proteins such as chicken breast could have been listed first. And more emphasis could have been made on considering alternatives to animal proteins.
Overall though, I think this new visual and the details behind it will move Americans in the right direction. Lowfat meat and dairy options are emphasized and increasing portions of fruits and vegetables can only have good outcomes. Added fats, sugars, and saturated fat in foods are considered empty calories and you are advised to avoid them. I think it will make sense to most folks and all the details they need to personalize it for themselves and their family is there with just a click. Good job, USDA!