By Colleen Doyle, MS, RD
Today, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled a new graphic, a new icon designed to help make it easier for all of us to eat a healthier diet. Called "MyPlate," this icon replaces the Food Guide Pyramid that, in one form or another, has been around since 1992. And it is a huge improvement. Especially because we eat off plates, not pyramids.
MyPlate is designed to be an easy-to-understand tool to help consumers put into action the key recommendations of the 2010 Federal Dietary Guidelines. This tool, along with other resources developed in support of the Guidelines, collectively strive to help all of us do these things:
- Enjoy your food, but eat less
- Avoid oversized portions
- Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables
- Switch to fat-free or 1% milk
- Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals, and choose the foods with lower numbers
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
And why are these recommendations so important? Because right now, 63% of adults in this country are overweight, including 27% who are obese; 17% of children and adolescents are obese; and our poor diets (and physically inactive lifestyles) contribute to 4 out of the 7 leading causes of death in this country, including cancer. We're talking about saving lives here.
The MyPlate graphic is just that - a plate, which visually depicts about how much of our plate should be fruits and vegetables (1/2); grains (1/4) and protein (1/4). Off to the side of the plate is a smaller circle representing dairy products like milk or yogurt. What's so great about this graphic, as compared to the Food Guide Pyramid it replaces, is that it quickly gives you a sense of, relative to other food groups, how much you should be eating of each. Fruits and vegetables should make up half my plate? Ok. I get that. Smaller portions of protein foods like beef and pork? Understood.
Obviously, one graphic can't convey every key message designed to improve our diets, so ChooseMyPlate.gov is loaded with tips about making healthy choices, such as choosing lean meats, incorporating more fish in your diet, eating more whole grains, and much more.
What I'm also pleased with is that this key message -filling your plate with mostly plant foods like vegetables, fruits and grains - is completely consistent with the American Cancer Society's own recommendations for reducing cancer risk. If you don't smoke, the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of cancer is to watch your weight - and eating this way can help.
But is this 'the answer' to improving our diets? Of course not. There will never be one thing that is 'the answer' to turn this country's eating habits around. As First Lady Michelle Obama stated at the release today, there are many things we need to do to improve healthy diets and stem the obesity epidemic. But this is a big step in the right direction.
Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, is director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society.