Cleaning your plate: Experts like new dietary icon that replaces food pyramid

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

For the life of her, Debbie Grant could never figure out what pyramids had to do with food.

The culinary instructor at Meadowcreek High School felt the Food Pyramid was "pretty meaningless to students ... and at times, unteachable."

So Grant was pleased to learn about the federal government's new food icon, which has replaced the decades-old pyramid-shaped teaching aid.

Food specialists like Grant are saying simplicity is the selling point behind MyPlate, the new icon for promoting healthy meal time habits.

"I was delighted to see it," Grant said. "I think it really is a great visual representation, more so than the food pyramid."

Unveiled earlier this month by the United States Department of Agriculture, MyPlate uses a diagram in the shape of a plate. It illustrates portion sizes for fruits and vegetables, proteins, whole grains and dairy.

The guide for healthy eating may look different, but the same basic ideas are in place with MyPlate, said Karen Crawford, dietitian for Gwinnett County Public Schools.

"I am excited about MyPlate," Crawford said. "I feel like the message is the same as with the Food Pyramid. It teaches about eating a variety of foods, while watching portion sizes."

Crawford said the new presentation helps consumers.

The plate-shaped symbol is divided into wedges for the basic food groups and half-filled with fruits and vegetables. The USDA has removed the fats and oils category from the symbol, which was used for the Food Pyramid.

"It's much easier for people to look at and know what they're supposed to eat," Crawford said. "It's broken down in a very simple way."

That's the goal, according to a representative from the United States Department of Agriculture.

In a news release, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated it's "an uncomplicated symbol to help remind people to think about their food choices in order to lead healthier lifestyles."

Added Vilsack: "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."

The USDA issued the news release earlier this month to promote MyPlate, which can be viewed at www.choosemyplate.gov.

The website provides resources for individuals, health professionals, the food industry and nutrition educators.

Crawford said she plans to use the MyPlate icon as a teaching aid in her role as a dietitian with the school system. She said the new food icon will not change the menu at Gwinnett County Schools, but will be useful.

"It's an excellent teaching tool," she said. "When we're in the classrooms talking with students and teachers about healthy eating ... this is a simple but effective visual aid for helping promote good eating habits."

Grant can attest to that.

"When I heard about it, I said, 'that makes sense.' It's very easy to look at and interpret very quickly," Grant said.

"People can take one look at the chart and say, 'I should only have this much protein and this much starch, this much fruits and vegetables' ... It's a positive for everybody."

The Food Pyramid visual aid will remain available to interested health professionals and nutrition educators in a special section of the agency's Web site.

According to its website, the USDA "provides leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources and related issues on sound public policy, the best available science and efficient management."

For more information, visit www.usda.gov.