MyPlate Promotes Whole-food Eating

The USDA’s new dietary food guide, MyPlate, emphasizes farm-fresh fare in every meal.

by Dani Yokhna
USDA MyPlate icon
Courtesy USDA
The USDA’s new MyPlate icon emphasizes healthy eating with each meal.

Last week, the USDA along with First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled a new way for Americans to view the food they eat.

Replacing the food pyramid, developed in the 1980s, the USDA’s new MyPlate icon attempts to simplify healthy eating for American families. Although it’s the simplicity that has caused the new jewel-toned icon to endure intense public scrutiny, the USDA intends to use it to encourage consumers to think about healthy eating with each meal.

Along with emphasizing the ratio in which the various food groups—fruit, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy—should be consumed, the icon’s accompanying website,, points out the necessity for farm freshness as the means to obtaining a healthy diet. It specifically directs food consumers to:

  • Make half of your plate at each meal fruits and vegetables.
  • Make half of your grain consumption whole grains.
  • Avoid sugary drinks, and opt for water instead.
  • Choose lean proteins, like chicken and legumes.

“The new dietary guidance icon will be a tipping point in how Americans literally visualize what they should eat,” says Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association. “The message to ‘make half your plate fruits and vegetables’ is simple, compelling and effective. It’s a breakthrough message that consumers can practice every day at every meal.”

Instead of emphasizing portion sizes to consumers, MyPlate recommendations are made in household equivalents, such as cups for vegetables, fruits and dairy and ounces for grains and proteins.

Although some things about America’s views on food consumption are not going to change (tomatoes, cukes and peppers will still be considered vegetables, not fruits), some of the new guidelines reflect the country’s growing food awareness. Consumers are told, for example, to vary their protein choices, which include nuts, seeds and legumes as well as meat, but nuts, peanut butter and legumes are now considered meat “alternates” due to their high caloric volume.

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Consumers can find out more information about which foods are in which food groups by clicking on the “Food Groups” section of the website.  Each food group section contains a Food Gallery that can serve as a guide to sizes.

The guidelines on the website were developed by nutritionists, dietitians, economists and policy experts at USDA based on recommendations found in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Take Action
Farmers interested in promoting healthy eating among younger generations can give their input on a proposed guide for marketing food to children. The recommendations for nutritional quality of food marketed to children and adolescents, ages 2 to 17, were created by a working group of federal nutrition, health, and marketing experts from four federal agencies (USDA, Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Public comments can be viewed and made electronically on the Federal Trade Commission website. Instructions on how to submit a comment via mail are available in the proposed guide

Comments will be accepted through July 14, 2011.  

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