MyPlate steps up in simple fashion

by Jeff Gelski
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WASHINGTON — The new MyPlate symbol, heavy on fruits and vegetables, drew praise for its simplicity when the U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled it June 2. MyPlate is designed to be a part of a healthy-eating initiative to convey seven key messages from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010.

Fruits and vegetables combine to take up half the plate. Other food groups emphasized are grains, taking up a little more than a quarter of the plate; protein, taking up a little less than a quarter; and dairy, which has its own side plate.

The Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., quickly praised MyPlate.

“P.M.A. is extremely pleased to see the U.S.D.A. move in this direction that not only benefits our industry, but more importantly helps consumers make better choices for a healthy lifestyle,” said Bryan Silbermann, president and chief executive officer of the P.M.A.

The plate symbol replaces the Food Guide Pyramid, which was first introduced in 1992 and later revised in 2005. The second version, available at www.mypyramid.gov, was criticized for being difficult to read.

“The new U.S.D.A. food graphic offers Americans a clear visual of a healthy plate, representing the full spectrum of nutritious foods we all need in our diets,” said Leslie G. Sarasin, president and c.e.o. of the Food Marketing Institute, Arlington, Va. “As F.M.I. member companies seek to feed families and enrich lives, this new icon will serve supermarket shoppers as a vivid reminder of what to put in their shopping carts so that it will later become part of a well-balanced plate.”

David A. Kessler, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner and a professor of pediatrics, epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Diego, said, “The plate is a major step forward in our nation’s efforts to promote health and prevent disease. In today’s environment, when food is on every corner, at every event, and two-thirds of the nation is overweight or obese, consumers need clear guidance on healthy eating. The plate shows more clearly than the pyramid what healthy eating is. The plate and the comprehensive communications effort it represents will help reverse trends for obesity.”

The plate symbol has its own web site at www.ChooseMyPlate.gov. Later this year the U.S.D.A. will unveil an on-line tool consumers may use to personalize and manage their dietary and physical activity choices.

The U.S.D.A. said the new symbol will convey seven key messages: enjoy food but eat less; avoid oversize portions; make half your plate fruits and vegetables; switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk; make at least half your grains whole grains; drink water instead of sugary drinks; and compare sodium (salt) in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals, and choose foods with lower numbers.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack took part in the June 2 unveiling of MyPlate.

“This is a quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods that we’re eating, and as a mom, I can already tell how much this is going to help parents across the country,” Mrs. Obama said. “When mom or dad comes home from a long day of work, we’re already asked to be a chef, a referee, a cleaning crew.

“So it’s tough to be a nutritionist, too. But we do have time to take a look at our kids’ plates. As long as they’re half full of fruits and vegetables, and paired with lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, we’re golden. That’s how easy it is.”

Mr. Vilsack said, “With so many food options available to consumers, it is often difficult to determine the best foods to put on our plates when building a healthy meal. MyPlate is an uncomplicated symbol to help remind people to think about their food choices in order to lead healthier lifestyles. This effort is about more than just giving information. It is a matter of making people understand there are options and practical ways to apply them to their daily lives.”

Breaking down MyPlate by food groups

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture at the www.ChooseMyPlate.gov web site describes what each food group includes and gives tips on how much to consume in each group. The MyPlate symbol also has drawn comments about specific food groups.

Fruits and vegetables

Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen or dried. They may be whole, cut-up or pureed. The www.ChooseMyPlate.gov web site re-commends consumers buy fresh fruits in season when they may be less expensive. Consumers are advised to buy not only fresh fruits but also fruits that are dried, frozen and canned so that a supply always will be on hand.

Any vegetable or 100% vegetable juice counts as a member of the vegetable group. Vegetables may be raw or cooked; fresh, frozen, canned or dried/dehydrated; and may be whole, cut-up or mashed. The ChooseMyPlate.gov web site recommends consumers buy fresh vegetables in season because they are likely to cost less and to stock frozen vegetables for cooking in the microwave.

Elizabeth Pivonka, president and chief executive officer of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, said, “This science-based government recommendation to make half your plate fruits and vegetables is a significant and positive step in the battle to fight obesity and related health issues in America. The plate icon is a simple, memorable way to show Americans the proportion of fruits and vegetables they should be eating at every meal occasion.”

Grains

Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal is a grain product. The web site recommends consumers eat more whole grains by substituting a whole grain product for a refined grain product.

The “grain chain” issued its unanimous support for the MyPlate icon. The “grain chain” includes such grain-based foods groups as the American Bakers Association, the Grain Foods Foundation, the National Association of Wheat Growers and the North American Millers’ Association.

“The icon will be a critical tool in educating children, parents, and individuals in healthy and sensible eating,” the group said. “With grains appropriately occupying a large portion on the dinner plate graphic, the agencies are making a strong statement regarding the importance of grains as the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. The average American should eat six servings of grain foods daily, at least half of those whole grains and the rest enriched grains, according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

Protein

All foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans, peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts and seeds are part of the protein group. Beans and peas are also part of the vegetable group.

The web site recommends consumers start with a lean protein choice. The leanest beef cuts include round steaks and roasts, top loin, top sirloin, and chuck shoulder and arm roasts. The label on lean ground beef should say at least “90% lean.” The leanest pork choices include pork loin, tenderloin, center loin and ham. Consumers are advised to buy skinless chicken parts or take off the skin before cooking.

James H. Hodges, president of the American Meat Institute Foundation, said, “We are pleased that the new food icon unveiled today, just as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, affirms in a clear and simple fashion that protein is a critical component of a balanced, healthy diet. Lean meat and poultry products are some of the most nutrient-rich foods available, are excellent sources of complete protein, iron and zinc, and maintain an excellent nutrition per calorie ratio.”

Dairy

Foods made from milk that retain their calcium content are part of the dairy group. Foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream and butter, are not. Calcium-fortified soymilk is part of the dairy group. The web site recommends consumers choose fat-free or low-fat milk. The dairy group has its own separate side dish as part of MyPlate.

Jean Ragalie, president of the National Dairy Council, said, “Knowing what we do about dairy’s ability to reduce the risk of conditions like osteoporosis, hypertension and type 2 diabetes, we think it’s exciting that dairy is highlighted individually. The location of dairy on the graphic really helps it stand out as an essential part of a healthy eating plan.”

What’s missing?

Omitted from the new icon are solid fats and oils. Making up the smallest portion of the Food Guide Pyramid, it was recommended that products containing solid fats and oils be consumed sparingly.

In the new icon they are not included and on the ChooseMyPlate web site solid fats are designated as “empty calories.”

“I think it was Secretary Vilsack that said, ‘Folks don’t seem to be having any trouble finding the dessert plate,” said Robb MacKie, president and chief executive officer of the American Bakers Association. “So, this is really designed more as everyday eating patterns — and not that desserts aren’t an important part of life enrichment, but the focus was on the core meal.”

Specifically, the ChooseMyPlate web site identifies cakes, cookies, pastries, donuts, sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, cheese, pizza, ice cream, sausages, hot dogs, bacon and ribs as sources of empty calories.

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