The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has ditched its MyPyramid food icon and replaced it with a plate in a bid to make it easier for Americans to work out what they are supposed to eat.
The pyramid, which many nutritionists criticized as both confusing and flawed, has been axed in favor of a plate sliced into four colored wedges representing fruits, vegetables, grains and protein to give consumers a quick, simple reminder of the basics of a healthy diet.
Dairy is represented by a small circle set beside the plate to represent a glass of low-fat milk or a yogurt.
Announcing the new icon, agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said it was a “powerful but simple and understandable message for busy American families”, adding: “For many years we’ve used MyPyramid as a symbol but the reality is that this is a pretty complex symbol and oftentimes difficult to remember. It was just too complex to serve as a quick and easy guide for busy American families.”
What's more simple than a plate?
First Lady Michelle Obama added: “We realized that we needed something that made sense not just in laboratories and classrooms but at dinner tables. What’s more simple than a plate? We don’t have time to measure three ounces of chicken – that has confounded me as a parent for a long time.
“We’re all bombarded with so many dietary messages, but we do have time to look at our kids’ plates. As long as half of their meal is fruit and veg along with lean protein and grains and dairy then we’re good.
“This is not the only thing we need to be doing, and doesn’t ensure that our communities have access to affordable fruit and veg and won’t spur our kids to get up and get active for an hour a day. But today is an enormous step in the right direction.”
Simple, actionable advice
The new icon, which heralds a "monumental effort" to improve America's health consistent with the guidance in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and responds to calls from the White House Child Obesity Task Force for simple, actionable advice to help consumers make healthier food choices.
The plate will be part of a comprehensive nutrition communication initiative including a new website and other tools and resources and makes it clear that fruits and vegetables should make up half of your meal.
While meat and dairy trade associations both immediately issued press releases welcoming the icon, what was striking about it was that plants actually represented three-quarters of the plate, said nutritionists gathered at a press conference organized by the American Bakers Association (ABA).
Nutritionist Professor Julie Miller Jones, a past president of the American Association of Cereal Chemists, said: “I’m delighted about MyPlate because it supports what we have been trying to say for years about moving to a more plant-based diet and emphasizes the role of wholegrains as staples.”
ABA chief executive Rob MacKie added: “Appropriately, grains occupy a large portion on the plate, a reaffirmation of grains as the foundation of a healthy lifestyle.It is fitting that on the 70th anniversary of the enrichment of flour, the new icon recognizes the importance of enriched grains."
Margo Wootan, Nutrition Policy Director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said: "This likely will shock most people into recognizing that they need to eat a heck of a lot more vegetables and fruits."
Meat and dairy
Meanwhile, American Meat Institute Foundation president James Hodges said: “We are pleased that the new food icon unveiled today, just as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, affirms in a clear and simple fashion that protein is a critical component of a balanced, healthy diet."
Shalene McNeill, executive director of human nutrition research at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, also weighed in: "Now with the knowledge of how lean beef fits perfectly into the Dietary Guidelines recommendations and graphic, Americans have even more reasons to enjoy it and feel good about it.”
The dairy industry was also quick to praise the new icon.
"Knowing what we do about dairy's ability to reduce the risk of conditions like osteoporosis, hypertension and type 2 diabetes, we think it's exciting that dairy is highlighted individually," said Jean Ragalie, president of the National Dairy Council.
International Dairy Foods Association president Connie Tipton added: "This highlights how beneficial a serving of dairy at every meal can be and helps to educate people about dairy's role on the table and in the American diet."
What was wrong with the pyramid?
The first food pyramid was introduced in 1992 and revised in 2005.
However, the second version (MyPyramid.gov) was widely criticized for being difficult to read - given that it did not contain pictures of foods, only colors - and consumers had to log on to the USDA website to get specific advice on servings and portion sizes.