MyPyramid to MyPlate: New Food Icon is Unveiled In Washington, DC

myplateIt’s official, MyPyramid is now MyPlate.  I was on hand today for the big unveiling of the nation’s new food icon by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Surgeon General  Regina Benjamin and First Lady Michelle Obama.

IMG_0773For many of us, we knew a plate was coming. So it was no surprise that a plate-shaped symbol was pushing aside the oft-maligned pyramd.  The poor MyPyramid of 2005 just never caught on, and I’m afraid that USDA lost some luster as a nutrition education leader with that misstep.  Even though, it’s unfair to blame the multi-colored pyramid for America’s obesity problem — as you’ll hear some people claim.

With today’s unveiling, I think the agency gained new respect and its efforts were surely propelled by the presence of the esteemed FLOTUS – who was incredibly elegant and well-spoken (as always) today at the Washington, DC event.


She gave the new MyPlate a strong endorsement:

“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.  When mom or dad comes home from a long day of work, we’re already asked to be 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.”

Simplicity seemed to be the prevailing message today.  The new MyPlate was frequently described as …

  • an easy-to-understand visual cue
  • uncomplicated
  • simple, actionable advice

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Yes, that’s what we need.  People are just so overwhelmed with complex, often conflicting messages.  No wonder they’re confused.

We need to make it easy, and we need to give people the confidence that it’s doable.  I  really like the plate symbol because that’s the point of consumption.   We make choices one meal at a time.  So let’s put the focus back on mealtime.   People eat food, not pyramids.  They literally need to know what to put on their plates.

myplate 006I also like the idea that USDA will be focusing on one message at a time — that’s another reason people get overwhelmed and do nothing.  First up is the message:  “Make Half Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables.”   That’s a tremendous call-to-action — it’s a simple message than people can understand, and again, it’s focused on the plate.   There’s a schedule on ChooseMyPlate.gov on how USDA will roll out additional messages so people can focus on changing one habit at a time.  I like that.

The major messages include:
  • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  • Avoid oversized portions.
  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk.
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains.
  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals and choose foods with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

To change habits, people need concrete, actionable ideas (and it needs to be enjoyable, so glad that’s a message!).  I think this approach is going to get us closer to changing behaviors.   I also loved to hear that USDA is going to put greater emphasis on social media to help educate the public. Bravo.

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As registered dietitians and bloggers, we’re here to help.  Here’s what RDs had to say about the new MyPlate:

Bonnie Taub Dix: USA Today  
Gloria Tsang: HealthCastle  
Toby Amidor:  Food Network’s Healthy Eats
Elizabeth Ward: Expect the Best
Lisa Young: The Portion Teller
Regan Jones: Professional Palate
Liz Weiss, Janice Bissex:  Meal Makeover Moms’ Kitchen
Alysa Bajenaru: Inspired RD
Serena  Ball:  Teaspoon Communications
Shelley Rael: Eat Well, Live Well, Be Well
Marisa Moore:  Marisa Moore Nutrition
Rachel Begun: The Gluten-Free RD
Katie Hamm: Healthy and Happy Hour
Elana Natker: A Sprinkle of Sage
Judy Doherty:  Food and Health Communications
Leslie Schilling: Born to Eat
Chere Bork:  Taste Life, With Chere
Cathy Leman: NutriFit
Danielle Omar 
Aarti Batavia    
Marie Spano: Performance Nutrition 
Carol Plotkin: On Nutrition
Jessica Levinson: Nutritioulicious
Penny Wilson: Eating for Performance
Heather Mangieri: Nutrition Checkup
Georgia Kostas
Kati Mora: Around the Plate
Emma Stirling: The Scoop on Nutrition    
Nicole German: Nicole’s Nutrition  
Annette Maggi:  Nutrition Outlook   
Kelley Biondolillo:  The Better Bitty Bite   
Susan Weiner: Susan Weiner Nutrition  
Nour El-Zibdeh: Practical Nutrition  
Carol Ireton-Jones
International Food Information Council:  Food Insight

myplate 004Registered dietitian Kathleen Zelman, director of nutrition for WebMD, spoke at a media briefing following the MyPlate reveal –discussing the plans WebMD has to implement the MyPlate guidelines.  Acclaimed chef Marcus Samuelsson also addressed the crowd, representing the culinary community’s efforts to help.

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In the media briefing room, USDA set up various examples to bring MyPlate to life.

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23 Comments

  • Any move away from the horrid MyPyramid is good. But MyPlate still has issues. For one, how can the USDA provide health advice on one hand while aggressively promoting sales of food commodities. More thoughts here: http://www.fooducate.com/blog/2011/06/03/hello-myplate-rip-mypyramid-five-comments/

  • Great post. I agree with the need to make it as simple as possible. People often become overwhelmed and like they can’t make so many changes. I am a big fan of small steps towards a larger goal.

    I’m an RD and I wrote about my thoughts on MyPlate. http://confessionsofaregistereddietitian.blogspot.com/2011/06/food-plate.html I would love to be included with the list of RD’s blogging about this!

  • Thanks for sharing these blogs and your experiences Janet!
    I, too, believe myplate will help Americans change eating behaviors for the better–but
    we RDs are in the front lines to present what’s behind the plate–the core principles and actionable
    tips to make current Dietary Guidelines more a part of their day to day lives.
    I also think an important message to get to consumers is not to feel pressure to get
    all five groups in each time they eat–they can spread these out over the day, between meals
    and snacks. The key is to consume more of these healthful foods–veggies, fruits, while grains, lean sources of protein, and low fat dairy AND at the same time reduce portions of (and how often we consume) alcohol, sweets, and other foods that provide calories with few nutrients. Also, staying fit
    and moving more–not depicted in myplate–is also a key component we need to continue to encourage to promote healthy weights & healthy hearts.

  • Since you are close to the action, please advise Tom and Michelle that there are broken links on the $2million dollar website that accompanies the plate. The recipes for every food group resolve to the same page.

    Since “recipes” usually involve ingredients from more than one food group, how are they placed on the plate? Cooking will have to become very simplistic to fit neatly in the four categories.

    And my favorite category, dessert, is not shown. Is that because it gets its own plate?

  • Pingback: Food Guide Pyramid Gets Replaced With a New Icon … and a Recipe for Collard Greens with Raisins and Pine Nuts | Meal Makeover Moms' Kitchen()

  • Pingback: Food Guide Pyramid Gets Replaced With a New Icon … and a Recipe for Collard Greens with Raisins and Pine Nuts | Meal Makeover Moms' Kitchen()

  • Pingback: Food Guide Pyramid Gets Replaced With a New Icon … and a Recipe for Collard Greens with Raisins and Pine Nuts | Meal Makeover Moms' Kitchen()

  • Here are my thoughts (as a soon-to-be Registered Dietitian; plan on taking my exam in August or September):

    http://smallbites.andybellatti.com/?p=7007

    I have many concerns. My Plate aside, I have some issues with the way it was presented (ie: “it will help people make healthier choices.”)

  • Pingback: The New MyPlate | Nicole's Nutrition()

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  • I like the new food plate, however they need to add something about food combining. Just because two or more things are good for you; doesn’t mean they should be eaten together:)

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  • Marisa

    It looks alright, but the one thing that caught my eye and that moved me to comment is the fact that a low-fat lifestyle is recommended. I think this is a really dangerous trend, though very popular. The fats that should be low in the diet are the super-refined, rancid ones: margarine, Crisco, canola oil, the general “vegetable oil”, and literally any fat that has been super processed (most vegetable oils on the shelves). These should be rightly avoided.
    The fats that should NOT be low in the diet are instead whole-food, minimally-processed forms of fat. They should be encouraged and eaten in liberal amounts, like they traditionally always have been in human history. By whole-food forms I mean avocados, tallow, grass-fed butter, ghee, oily fish, etc., as well as most vegetable & nut fats that have been minimally-processed (coconut oil, palm oil, olive oil, pumpkin oil, etc.). Each one of these forms of fat have their own particular benefit and shouldn’t be neglected in a healthy diet. Unrefined coconut oil, for instance, is a great aid to thyroid health; grass-fed butter, cream, and other full-fat dairy contain lots of naturally occuring Vit. A, B12 and D (not synthetic) as well as CoQ10, and many other helpful substances; unrefined red palm oil has a very large amount of Vit. A in the form of beta-carotene, lycopene; it also contains large amounts of all forms of Vit. E. The point is that it’s dangerous, abnormal, and just a real shame to shun the many benefits of whole-food, unrefined fats! You can always tell the difference between a refined and unrefined fat because the unrefined fats keep their distinctives–they actually taste, look, and smell like the thing they came from! Yummy 🙂

    This is a very interesting blog post about skim milk that goes against the popular opinion of the past few decades:
    http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/2010/02/why-skim-milk-will-make-you-fat-and/

  • Are Registered Dietitian’s the Missing Link in The New USDA My Plate and USDA Dietary Guidelines?

    Since the USDA’s My Plate was released this month, I took the time to read the Executive Summary and Formative Research article that is available on the My Plate website. As with most new ideas, change is hard.

    Since its debut, I have been reading many consumer and professional opinions about My Plate’s design. Some comments that resonated with me were, “Protein’s not a food group; it’s a nutrient”, “There is no fish and healthy fats represented”, “Where do I put the cheese-itz?”, “It took 2 years to create THAT!”, and one of my favorites, my 6 year son asked, “Where’s the candy?”

    With so many different educational, income, and cultural backgrounds, how is the USDA and HHS to create a ”one logo fits all”? Sure, if you actually read the accompanying guidelines it makes more sense, but who really does that? Many consumers still receive much of their nutritional information from the various media sources, many of which are not even written by formally educated and working health care professionals.

    I would like to challenge all of my fellow RD’s to read the executive summary and research, and evaluate the pros and cons of how the USDA and HHS devised the new My Plate logo and recommendations. To encourage a healthy discussion on the topic, I have my top 3 critiques.

    1. No one interviewed me!
    o Interviews of health agencies were conducted as part of the research process to get input on the design and dietary recommendation of the US population. Specifically the summary states, “Participants represented a broad range of Departments, agencies, and programs within the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Education and Health & Human Services, as well as the U.S. Fire Administration, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Office of Personnel Management, and the U.S. Domestic Policy Council.”
    o Cons —- Did anyone else notice that everyone interviewed in creating My Plate was “In-house”?? Why not interview registered dietitians who actually counsel patients on nutrition, teach various classes to thousands of people every year on all aspects of nutrition; that can provide real life experiences and feedback about what educational models work and what doesn’t; talking with dietitians who have solutions that have shown positive outcomes in their patient’s behaviors. I am sure all of my fellow RD’s that have patient contact every working day, would agree that we have the experience and foresight that would be an integral part of the development of the guidelines. Guidelines that nearly every American has and will be exposed to and taught about at some point in their life. Did it ever occur to the USDA and HHS that RD’s (I am talking about those in private practice, in hospitals, in nursing homes, at education centers, at WIC, in school districts, and all other settings that require us to use our counseling and nutrition knowledge to help their communities make positive lifestyle changes) may be the missing link in the design flaw so many Americans are talking about?
    2. First impressions are so important.
    o At first glance, I like My Plate. Visually it makes sense, it is easy to understand, and it is something many RD’s have been using as a teaching method for many years. It is a spinoff of “The Plate Method”. I still use “The Plate Method” from time to time and find that most, if not all of my patients understand and like its simplicity.
    ? Pros –
    • The new My Plate is a quick visual message that breaks down portions in an easy to see format. It is great for all literacy levels. It is colorful and clean looking. No food piled anywhere, unless of course you want to pile your protein up high on the 4th quadrant, but even those folks know they are not playing by the rules.
    • During the focus groups, participants said they needed the guidelines to be simple, realistic, palatable, and can fit into their busy lifestyle. The new My Plate addresses all of those objectives.
    ? Cons –
    • Many people do not know what constitutes a protein. I still get patients that think chicken is a carb. While trying to over simplify the protein group, the USDA and HHS may have gone too far. I don’t know about you, but when I look up the nutritional on milk, it has protein. Confusing, right? Ah, just another reason a knowledgeable RD who has experience with what a typical patient would say, would have been an asset to USDA’s team.
    • Where is the yogurt and cheese represented? In the protein group too? Why not put all dairy off to the side? Now we get into protein vs. dairy and where do we put what, and blah blah blah. If I am confused, you can sure bet your patients will be more so.
    • What about breakfast? Do most people eat that many food groups at their first meal? In my experience, obtaining at this point in my career, thousands of food recalls, most people do not eat all the food groups at breakfast. So what should the breakfast plate look like?
    • What about combination foods like casseroles, lasagna, pizza, burritos, etc…? Do we just stick it in the middle of the plate and call it a day?
    o Maybe I am over thinking this, but hey, if I am contemplating these issues, I am sure your patient’s will be thinking about it. So you’d better think of something to tell them in the meantime.
    • You can’t expect consumers to avoid the “naughty” foods entirely. That is not realistic or practical (or fun!). So where can we add the gummy bears and apple pie to our plate?
    o Since there is no room on the plate, maybe the “extras” should be one ramekin size bowl or a shot glass? Hey, it’s just a thought.
    • One comment I heard from a fellow RD, “Where is the exercise represented?” The last pyramid had a person running up the steps. Maybe keeping it simple also meant just focusing on food.

    3. Obesity is the focus –
    o The 3 main goals of My Plate are:
    ? Balancing calories to manage weight
    ? Foods and food components to reduce
    ? Foods and nutrients to increase
    If you haven’t seen the CDC’s obesity map, you are a little behind the times. And just in case you haven’t, here is the link: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html (I will warn you it is pretty depressing…). It’s no wonder the focus of My Plate is now on portion control. I am amazed at how many of my patients have no concept of how many calories they need in a day to either maintain their weight or lose weight. But even if they did know, would it be enough to create behavior change? Since the new laws have been enacted that require qualifying restaurants to provide the calories of their meals, are consumers ordering lower calorie menu items? Time will tell…

    The summary does conclude by saying, “An icon will not teach all nutrition concepts, nor will it alone change behavior. Additional resources will be necessary to provide all the information that consumers say they need including what foods to choose within the food groups and amounts of food to eat. Therefore, successful DGA communication will supplement the plate and messages with tools and resources that help consumers manage calories and portion sizes, apply dietary recommendations and patterns to meals and snacks over the course of a day and week, and apply the DGAs with foods that meet their cultural needs.”

    As is the case with My Plate’s logo, a picture does not tell the whole story. We need dietitians to help bring it to life. As we continue to use the guidelines to teach our patients about healthy eating, we will also use the tools that have brought our patient’s the most success. An individualized approach to teaching nutrition will always be the most effective way to help our paitents meet their nutritional goals.

  • Personally I think they should have made the fruit and vegetable section bigger and the protein section a lot smaller……

  • Audrey

    Why isn’t there a limit on the size of the plate? That’s great that they are encouraging a healthy balance in the different types of foods, but I think portion control is a huge issue and I am looking forward to seeing how they will address this.

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