WASHINGTON -- Federal officials are replacing the food pyramid with a colorful plate segmented into basic food groups as the symbol for the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans. While some experts say that the new approach is an imperfect solution, it's widely regarded as a vast improvement on the 19-year-old, and much maligned, food pyramid.
The new pictogram, called My Plate, was unveiled on June 2 by first lady Michelle Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin at a press conference in the nation's capital.
The plate is split into four sections labeled fruit, vegetables, grains and protein. A smaller circle beside the plate is designated dairy. An accompanying website, choosemyplate.gov, is featured along with the new symbol and provides more detailed guidance on the diet advice behind the new chart. It will eventually feature interactive tools that help people manage their weight and track exercise.
The goal behind the $2 million initiative is to make healthy eating easier for individuals and families, a key part of the first lady's Let's Move campaign.
"Parents don't have the time to measure out exactly 3 oz. of protein," the first lady said as she introduced the new graphic. "We do have time to look at our kids' plates."
The food pyramid, first introduced in 1992 and revised in 2005 as My Pyramid, has been widely criticized by health experts as being too complex and confusing by communicating too many different nutrition facts at once and making it hard for consumers to identify the best choices. (My Pyramid is a rainbow-striped triangle with a stick figure running up the side, showing the need for exercise.)
Vilsack explained that My Plate, by contrast, was designed to give consumers a simple, easy-to-follow picture of the proportions of each food group that should be on their plates. The icon makes it clear that fruits and vegetables should make up half of the plate. Protein should represent the smallest portion of a meal and the grain serving should be slightly larger.
The new plate-shaped diagram is a visual representation of the most recent set of dietary guidelines released in January by the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services. The recommendations include reducing salt intake, eating smaller portions and drinking water instead of sugary drinks. They also suggest filling half of each plate with fruits and vegetables, a message easily communicated by the My Plate image.
An educational campaign publicizing My Plate will familiarize the public with the new chart and communicate the latest dietary guidelines, one component at a time. My Plate will also be integrated into the public school breakfast and lunch programs, so children will better understand why certain foods are healthier for them.