My Plate nutrition guide replaces food pyramid, to mixed reaction

It's helpful. It's unnecessary.

It's stupid. It's brilliant.

When it comes to the new My Plate healthy eating guide introduced this month by the Department of Agriculture, there are as many opinions as colors.

The plate, a rainbow-bright symbol meant to make healthy eating recommendations easier to understand, shows the groups of foods Americans should be eating — in the right proportions for optimal health — on a white plate.

My Plate replaces the food pyramid, the standard in governmental nutritional advice since 1993.

A glance at the new guide shows that half your plate should consist of fruits and vegetables. Eating more fruits and vegetables will reduce calories and increase vitamins and minerals. The rest of your plate should be a combination of mostly whole grains and a smaller amount of lean protein with a side of dairy. The divided plate also discourages super-sized portions, which can lead to weight gain.

My Plate's advice: "Enjoy your food, but eat less."

Critics say that the $2 million the government is spending to promote the guide is too much, but Mitzi Dulan, a registered dietitian and co-author of The All-Pro Diet with former Kansas City Chiefs player Tony Gonzalez, gives it a thumbs-up. She says she has been using a similar plate with her clients for more than a decade.

"I think it's a step in the right direction," she said. "Visually speaking, people can kind of think of what they want their plate to look like. And it's a better educational tool. Whenever you can educate people better they will learn better and eventually make smarter food choices.

"When we're paying an estimated $146 billion every year in nutrition-related health care costs, it is in all of our best interests to try to help others make smart food choices and help them improve their diet," she said.

What was so wrong with the pyramid?

"It was too confusing, and it just wasn't a good visualization for people," Dulan said. It also gave poor nutritional advice, she said.

The bottom of the pyramid contained way too many starches, didn't specify whole grains, and didn't provide a visual cue of what a serving size is, she said.

Choosemyplate.gov — the My Plate website — offers more specific nutritional information, including recommendations on portion size, and healthy eating guidelines for various sexes and ages. It also lists what it calls "key consumer messages" written in large red type: "Make at least half your grains whole grains," and "Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk."

The website says consumers should compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals, and choose foods with lower numbers. It also recommends drinking water instead of sugary drinks.

The new My Plate guide is a good start to developing such healthy habits, said Dulan, the dietitian.

"While you can't control what people do, you do have to educate them and make the advice as easy to understand as possible," she said. "And many people do want to be told what to eat. They want a guide. They want you to take the work out of it and make it as simple as possible for them. And that's what they've done."

. fast facts

On MyPlate

Here's a closer look at what's included in the USDA's food groups in the new My Plate healthy eating icon — fruits, vegetables, protein, grains and dairy.

Fruits: Any fruit or 100 percent fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen or dried and may be whole, cut up or pureed.

Vegetables: Any vegetable or 100 percent vegetable juice counts. Veggies may be raw or cooked; fresh, frozen, canned or dried/dehydrated.

Protein: Lean cuts of beef and pork, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, beans, peas and tofu. Protein helps build, maintain and replace vital tissues.

Grains: Bread, cereal, rice, tortillas, pasta. Whole-grain products, including whole-wheat bread, oatmeal and brown rice, have more fiber and are healthier choices.

Dairy: Milk, yogurt, cheese, fortified soy milk. Low-fat or nonfat dairy is preferable.

n Cookbooks to help with MyPlate

No-Fad Diet

($24.99, Clarkson Potter)

This no-nonsense guide from the American Heart Association isn't sexy or trendy, but it is chock-full of solid advice. No quick fixes here. Just a wealth of good information to help you follow the new USDA guidelines, and recipes for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Sweet & Skinny: 100 Recipes for Enjoying Life's Sweeter Side Without Tipping the Scales

(By Marisa Churchill, $24,

Clarkson Potter)

You don't have to give up

dessert to eat right and be healthy. Just be smart about it. This book can help.

My Plate nutrition guide replaces food pyramid, to mixed reaction 06/21/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 5:30am]

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