The new USDA healthy eating guide have been launched. It is revealed on the new website ChooseMyPlate.gov.
This is actually the second change to the Food Pyramid as in 2005 the USDA changed its pyramid when it launched MyPyramid.gov (this website is now merged with the new ChooseMyPlate.gov site).
On June 2nd, 2011, the USDA is officially launched its Food Pyramid replacement. The new plate format is very much like the UK Eatwell Plate which provides a visual guide to help people develop a balanced diet.
The original 1992 USDA Food Pyramid
The Food Pyramid was first presented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1992 to provide a simple visual representation of a healthy and balanced diet. It was first called the Improved American Food Guide Pyramid and was originally developed in Denmark in 1978. The pyramid structure placed different food groups on the pyramid, with the most important foods at its base.
The original USDA Food Pyramid placed the staple foods (bread, cereal, pasta, rice) at its base and suggested that every day you should have 6-11 servings of these foods.
Next up was the vegetable group (3-5 servings) and the fruit group (2-4 servings). Between them the vegetables and fruits group suggested that you ate 5-9 servings each day. Current recommendations are still that we should all strive to consume at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetables each day.
The next tier of the pyramid had the milk, cheese and yogurt group (2-3 servings) and the meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts group (2-3 servings).
The top of the pyramid is for the fats, oils and sweets and the advice is the “use sparingly”.
The New Food Pyramid Is Not A Pyramid!
The reason for the change is simple – to improve America’s health. The USDA felt that a new tool was required to encourage more people to follow a healthy diet and lifestyle to help tackle obesity and other dietary related illnesses.
The new healthy eating icon is more than just a guideline to how much of each food type to eat, it is intended to provide clearer guides on how to eat healthily. In addition to the food pyramid graphic there are six how-to messages on how to eat healthily:
- Enjoy your food, but eat less.
- Avoid oversized portions.
- Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
- Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
- Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals, and choose the foods with lower numbers.
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
The USDA says that if it can encourage people to make one change at a time then the long term result should be healthier and fitter people.
The biggest change seems to be a greater emphasis on fruit an vegetables than grains. This follows the advice now given by many nutritionists and provides a diet plan closer to that of the low Gi diet plan. When people consume foods that are lower on the glycemic scale they tend to feel full for longer and have a reduced appetite.
Drinking water instead of sugary drinks is also excellent advice. Few people realize how much sugar (and therefore calories) are in soda. Just stopping soda can have an huge and immediate impact on weight and health.
There are other important changes to the nutrition advice given by the USDA:
- Make half your grains whole. Rather than just advising to eat staples the new advice is to eat more whole grains. These provide more fiber, more nutrition and take longer to digest.
- Vary your veggies. This is to encourage the consumption of a wider variety of foods. Many vegetables have properties to improve health so a varied diet provides a greater health benefit.
- Focus on fruits. Taking it one stage further it suggests that you should consume more fruits, especially those that are rich in anti-oxidants and vitamins such as berries.
- Get your calcium-rich foods. Calcium is vital for the long term development of healthy bones and it also aids weight management.
- Go lean with protein. Protein is vital for healthy muscle and tissue but it is equally important to ensure that you eat low-fat proteins such as fish, poultry, eggs and pulses.
Overall this looks like a very good move on the part of the USDA. Although the principals of healthy eating have not changed over the last 30 years the message is in need of change as so many people are failing to understand what a healthy diet is.
For more on healthy eating we suggest that you read our article Basics Of A Healthy Diet – What To Eat which covers many of the areas mentioned above and is based largely on the Eatwell Plate.
It will be interesting to see how the new USDA “plate” differs from the UK Eatwell Plate. There could well be a slightly different balance of food groups although it is likely that the overall message will be the same.