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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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  • Whiteryanc

    Political issues aside (Dairy Mob, Beef Mob, etc…), I feel like the biggest issue with this infographic is the simplicity not representing the different aspects of each category. The additional information is in tiny text and difficult to quickly read through. The secondary information needs to be more accessible and easier to distinguish. Perhaps secondary graphic representation is needed within each category on the plate?

  • cassandra

    Here’s a simple approach:  teach people to eat real food.  Everything marketed as low fat, everything that is “ersatz” and most things that are heavily processed are not good for you.  Food as it grows, including animals, vegetables, oils, and grains, in moderate quantities are good for.  If people can absorb the pleasure of the taste of genuine food (no, it doesn’t have to be expensive or organic) and learn to balance the amount they eat, they can eat anything.

  • Rex

    I did the Paleo diet for a month.  It was simple:  

    Meat, vegetables, healthy fats, tree nuts, and some fruit.  
    No bread, sugar, or dairy. 

    It was tough but I’ve never felt better.  While it’s not for someone on a tight budget, it does keep you out of the fast food joints and vending machines.

  • Carol Farris

    Why didn’t you discuss pyramid tracker, which is an online tool to track what you eat and its relation to your energy output? So much of the conversation was trying to find tools to help educate the public but you neglected to even mention one put forth by the USDA itself!

    http://www.mypyramidtracker.gov/

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