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USDA introduces My Plate to better connect families to healthier meals

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The United States Department of Agriculture turned the food pyramid on its head this week. A new food icon, called MyPlate, will replace the USDA food pyramid as a simple reminder of what foods constitute a healthy meal.

The icon shows food group proportions that constitute a healthy meal in a simple, understandable way. It is designed to help busy families make good food and portion choices.

"The whole idea of MyPlate is to have people enjoy their food, but eat less," said Tammy Roberts, nutrition specialist for University of Missouri Extension. "Putting it on a plate shows what a proper portion size on the plate would be and prompts people to only eat that much."

However, the MyPlate icon is just a reminder.

"One picture, or one icon, doesn't teach everybody everything they need to know for healthy eating," said Ellen Schuster, nutrition specialist for MU Extension. "It can give some simple messages that can help in your everyday eating."

Schuster said the new icon has one shortfall. MyPlate has nothing that reminds of the importance of being active unlike the MyPyramid symbol, which illustrated physical activity recommendations with a small figure climbing the stairs.

"I really wish they had some way to include physical activity with the plate," Schuster said. "People need to balance what they eat with physical activity, which is an important part of a healthy lifestyle."

However, the simplicity of MyPlate has real advantages.

"Even children can understand it," Roberts says. "This means children will become the MyPlate police.

"They will say, 'Mom, you forgot a fruit. Mom, you forgot the milk,' and once the children know, they can actually help to assure that their meal is healthy," said Roberts.

Schuster said another problem with MyPlate is it doesn't address mixed meals such as chili or casserole that combine foods from different categories. However, she said the website will help address this.

"One of the things that I was reading on their website, which I think is a really good idea, is that they are going to set up a food plate library and people will submit pictures of their plates," Schuster said. "You'll see actual pictures of food that are healthy plates, and I think that's a really nice idea to get people involved in this process."

While the icon is simple, the MyPlate website provides a wealth of information. Interactive tools like the "Daily Food Plan," allows individuals to customize their food needs by age, gender and amount of physical activity.

Additionally, "MyFoodapedia" will give individuals calorie information about specific foods.

To experience more detailed information on MyPlate and how to make meals healthier go to www.choosemyplate.gov.



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