The New USDA Food Guide: The Healthy Plate

By:    Published: January 31, 2012

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Almost everyone has heard of the Food Pyramid. It has existed as the hallmark for a healthy, balanced diet for many years. However, that's all going to change with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Healthy Plate, which now serves as the icon for the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Here is a quick look at this new icon of a healthy and balanced diet that is meant to help people prepare and portion their meals properly.

The Healthy Plate Guide

The color-coded, four-part plate with dairy on the side includes the necessary components for a balanced diet:

  • Fruits: The red portion of the plate.
  • Vegetables: The green portion of the plate.
  • Grains: The orange portion of the plate.
  • Protein: The Purple portion of the plate.
  • Dairy: A separate, blue section outside of the plate meant to be served on the side.

A quick look at the plate's structure shows fruits and vegetables making up half of the meal, with protein being the smallest portion, and the grains section being slightly larger than the protein section.

MyPlate Tips and Suggestions

The USDA Myplate website still offers the same nutritional tips and suggestions as MyPyramid such as:

  • Balance calories by enjoying food while exercising portion control.
  • Half of your food plate should consist of fruits and vegetables.
  • Half of the grains being eaten as part of the Healthy Plate should be whole grains.
  • Drink only fat-free or low-fat milk.
  • Lower sodium intake by reading nutrition labels and selecting foods low in sodium.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks like soda.

Aside from these main tips, MyPlate also offers numerous suggestions on how to:

Benefits of the Healthy Plate vs. the Food Pyramid

Unlike the food pyramid, the Healthy Plate is simpler and makes meal preparation much easier. Since the icon is in the actual shape of a plate, the public is provided with a visual aid of how their own plate should look like, rather than navigating the Food Pyramid where foods that were meant to be eaten the most often were depicted at the bottom of the pyramid, while the foods that were meant to be eaten sparingly were at the top.

Just looking at the Food Pyramid can be quite confusing. One could easily assume that the foods placed at the top represent the healthiest foods, while foods at the very bottom are the unhealthiest. The Food Pyramid doesn't help with meal preparations or determining portion sizes either. After all, nobody portions out their meal in pyramid blocks. The Healthy Plate gives people an actual plate icon to use as a reference. If you're staring down at a plate mostly made of meat, some grains and a couple of vegetables, it's easy to determine that your plate is nutritionally unbalanced when you compare it to the Healthy Plate icon.

An outline of the benefits of the Healthy Plate vs. the Food Pyramid:

  • Simple structure that is easier to understand than the pyramid structure.
  • Easier to determine portion sizes.
  • The plate icon is a better visual aid than the pyramid.
  • A strong emphasis on fruits and vegetables as part of half of the plate, with veggies taking up even more space on the plate than fruits.
  • The use of a "protein" section rather than a "meat" section, where protein sources other than animal flesh and byproducts can also be utilized.

Negative Aspects of the Healthy Plate

While the Healthy Plate seems like a better icon, overall, some nutritionists may argue that there are still some negative aspects that need to be addressed such as:

  • A "grains" section of the plate where only half of the serving is recommended to be whole grains, which may seem like very little to some nutritionists.
  • Lack of a "fats and oils" section, where good fats and oils, like omega 3 and monounsaturated fat, can be addressed with the necessary information for a healthy diet.

While such shortcomings leave little to argue about the benefits of the Healthy Plate, they are still issues that some people may want to have addressed before accepting it as the flagship for a healthy and well-balanced diet.

All information provided as of June 2011

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