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Making MyPlate YourPlate

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Cheryle Jones Syracuse
Family and Consumer Science Staff Cooperative Extension
It’s been out almost a month. I really wonder if anyone but people like me who teach nutrition and wellness and a few journalists have paid much attention.
I’m talking about the new MyPlate nutrition icon. The MyPlate icon is just that—an icon. It’s the latest replacement for the food guide pyramid.
The whole idea is to help Americans know what makes a healthier diet. I think most of us know we should be eating healthier, but that’s hard to put into practice.
MyPlate is much simpler than the pyramid and offers just a few easy ideas on how you can do it.
MyPlate is just that, a plate with four divisions and an added glass. The size of each section offers a guide as to how much of each of the food types to eat. The sections are labeled protein, dairy, fruits, vegetables and grain. These are basically the same as they were in the pyramid only milk is called dairy and meat and beans group is now called protein.
Why these changes? The dairy group now focuses on getting calcium through dairy products, but doing it with less added fats and sugars. If you read the accompanying materials closely you’ll also see they have added fortified soymilk to this group.
The meat and beans group has been changed to the protein group. This emphasizes there are other ways to get protein than by just eating meat. Again, if you read the accompanying details you’ll see that you can get protein from seafood, eggs, beans and other plant proteins like soy, nuts and seeds, too.
If you really want to know more about this and are willing to read, there is lots of information on the web that helps explain MyPlate. These details are in the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 that were released earlier this year. There are more than 100 pages of information at www.choosemyplate.gov.
But, if you’re like most people, you may want more than just the icon, but don’t want to read 100 pages worth. Here are some of the basics from MyPlate. This can be a starting point for most people.
•Eat more fruits and vegetables;
•Watch your portion sizes;
•Eat more whole grain;
•Eat less sodium, less solid fats and less added sugars;
•Eat a variety of food; and
•Don’t forget dairy.
When you look at it this way, things really haven’t changed much from the pyramid.
Are their problems with it? Of course, as with anything new, there are concerns.
Here are a couple thoughts I’ve read from emails and in blogs by nutritionists across the nation. They question how big is this plate? Eight or nine or 12 inches? You could get a lot of food onto a large plate and you still could pile mountains of food high onto the plate no matter what size.
Also, how do you count mixed foods like mac and cheese or soups? Do we have to deconstruct them to figure out how to fit them on the plate? No one really is going to do that. Also, in reality, some meals are eaten from paper wrappers and cardboard boxes and not plates, so how do you estimate here?
Carolyn Dunn, PhD., Professor and Nutrition Specialist at NC Cooperative Extension wrote in her food blog, Food Myths and Memes, “when you sit down to eat a meal, you don’t just eat nutrients or even food, you eat a meal. That meal should be balanced, that is nothing new.”
What she liked about MyPlate is it is “a move in the right direction to help make eating healthy simple.” Her next recommendation is simple as well. “Now that you have your plate balanced...buy a smaller plate….enjoy your food, just don’t eat as much.”
Overall, I think the first impression by most is MyPlate better than the pyramid and we shouldn’t get caught up in the details. After all it is only an icon and are we asking too much of an icon?