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Food Pyramid’s Successor, ‘My Plate,’ Dishes Up Debate

From left: The USDA's new "My Plate"; the food pyramid; and Harvard's "Healthy Eating Plate."

From left: The USDA's new "My Plate"; the food pyramid; and Harvard's "Healthy Eating Plate."

So what would your picture of a healthy diet look like? How would you craft a diagram to guide schools, families, and children to learn healthy eating habits? It turns out this is a lot more complicated than it sounds.

It’s important because two out of every three Americans are overweight, and given that obesity leads to a host of health problems — from heart disease to diabetes — an easy-to-follow guide to healthy eating is not only convenient, it could actually save lives.

That explains why the U.S. Department of Agriculture has embraced the challenge. Remember the government’s food pyramid? It was with us for decades. It put bread, cereal, rice, and pasta on the bottom, then as you moved up vegetables, fruit, portions of meat and dairy, and so on.

But critics said the pyramid made no sense, was too complicated, and failed to promote healthy eating. So this year, the FDA released a much simpler guide called “my plate.” As the name implies, it’s a plate divided into four sections: two of them are filled with fruits and vegetables. The other two with grains and protein, with a glass of milk off to the side. First Lady Michelle Obama described it last spring as a “quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods we are eating. And as a mom I can already tell you how much this going to help all across the country.”

Quick, simple and easy to understand.

But is it too simple?

That’s the position of Walter Willett, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard University. Willett has put together what he says is a much better design called the Healthy Eating Plate. We’ll take a look at both plates.

What are your thoughts on healthy eating? How should we encourage it and how can we sum it up in a way that’s quick and easy to understand? Have you seen the government’s “My Plate” picture? Do you find it helpful?

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Hosts Meghna Chakrabarti and Anthony Brooks introduce us to newsmakers, big thinkers and artists and bring us stories of relevance to Bostonians here and around the region. Live every weekday at 3.

WBUR's Sacha Pfeiffer is co-hosting Radio Boston while Meghna Chakrabarti is on maternity leave.

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