Nutrition recommendations are forever changing, leaving consumers confused about what it really means to “eat healthy.”
The U.S. government began issuing food guides in the early 1900s and they have varied in appearance, from a wheel to a pyramid. In 2005, the well-known food guide pyramid, composed of stacked boxes, was replaced by the colorful MyPyramid, composed of vertical lines, varying in size and shape. This revised pyramid was complicated, and many consumers found it difficult to translate the message of moderation, variety and proportion into their hectic lifestyles. To add to the confusion, many health and nutrition groups have created their own healthy eating guides to promote a healthier America.
Enter ChooseMyPlate, the most recent food guide from the USDA. This new, simplified icon colorfully illustrates the five food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy) using a familiar mealtime cue — a place setting. The website (www.ChooseMyPlate.gov) expands on the obvious visual message to make half of your plate fruits and vegetables with bold statements, such as “Enjoy your food, but eat less,” “Avoid oversized portions” and “Drink water instead of sugary drinks.” It offers many nutrition and exercise tips and a never-ending array of links to help incorporate more produce, whole grains and lean protein into the diet, as well as interactive tools that provide specialized food plans, aide in meal planning, calorie tracking and weight loss.
I believe that Americans need a simple, all-in-one tool to help them choose healthier foods in appropriate portions. We love to eat whatever, whenever and wherever, especially if it means eating out. Though the website offers many tips and tools, simply having to search for this information decreases the usability and effectiveness of the guide.
Here are several suggestions to make the MyPlate icon more user-friendly:
- List total daily serving recommendations by food group (e.g.: 5 to 9 servings of fruit and vegetables each day)
- Give examples of healthy choices by each group (e.g.: 1 serving of fruit equals 1 cup berries)
- Indicate appropriate serving sizes in simple terms (e.g.: cups versus ounces)
- State the basic messages at the bottom (e.g.: “Enjoy your food, but eat less,” “Drink water instead of sugary drinks” and “Move more.”)
- Offer suggestions on how to determine appropriate portion sizes on mixed foods (e.g.: pizza, pasta dishes, tacos, etc.)
I do believe that this new icon is a great improvement over MyPyramid, but the new MyPlate lacks adequate visual detail to educate Americans on how to eat healthy, specifically how much and how often. The MyPlate food guide has the potential to be an excellent too … with a few tweaks.
Kelly Roehl, MS, RD, CNSC, LDN, is a nutrition support dietitian who works in the Neurological Intensive Care Unit and step-down units at Rush University Medical Center.