UND Weighs In On New MyPlate Guidelines

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UND Weighs In On New MyPlate Guidelines

On June 2, 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) took the bold step of replacing the food pyramid diagram with a new nutritional guide called “MyPlate.” The purpose was to create an icon that was easier to understand and better represented the types of food, and relative proportions one needs for a nutritious diet.

For over a century, the USDA has produced nutritional guides, publishing the first of these in 1894, before the discovery of specific vitamins and minerals. Over time, policies were put in place such as iodine fortification of salt and enrichment of flour products that, along with education, have eliminated many nutritional deficiencies in the U.S.

As knowledge of our dietary needs has increased, dietary recommendations have evolved to help us reduce our risk of chronic health conditions and raised awareness of connections between diet and certain cancers and infectious diseases.

MyPlate is a new design for nutrition guides in that it attempts to represent the rough size of a portion of a specific food group as it might appear on one’s plate. Thus, the audience for MyPlate can imagine the serving’s sizes in proportion to the plate in front of them, not an abstract graph of narrowing lines, or arcane systems of servings. For most people, that system is much too complicated.

According to Janice Goodwin, Associate Professor in the Nutrition and Dietetics Department, there has been a “portion distortion,” in the last few decades. “There is no doubt that a major factor in the obesity epidemic in the U.S. is the larger portions of food that we eat coupled with less physical activity.”

“Twenty years ago, the average cheeseburger contained about 330 calories,” says Goodwin. “Today we are offered one that averages almost 600 calories, almost twice the amount of meat and cheese! Twenty years ago the standard bottle of soda was a little over 6 ounces and contained about 85 calories. Today the standard portion is 20 ounces and provides 250 calories. I have seen 44 and even 64 ounce containers for soda at convenience stores. This is what we mean by “portion distortion.”

Portions on the MyPlate diagram are divided into sections of approximately 30 percent grains, 30 percent vegetables, 20 percent fruits and 20 percent protein, and include a small circle (representing a serving of low-fat milk or yogurt) set to the side.

According to First Lady Michelle Obama, “Parents don't have the time to measure out exactly three ounces of chicken or to look up how much rice or broccoli is in a serving.…And we're all bombarded with so many dietary messages that it's hard to find time to sort through all this information. But we do have time to take a look at our kids' plates. We do it all the time.… And as long as they're eating proper portions, as long as half of their meal is fruits and vegetables alongside their lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, then we're good.”

The creation of MyPlate follows the most recent iteration in USDA nutrition iconography, MyPyramid, which had been in place since 2005. Before that, many may remember the Food Guide Pyramid, which attempted to break up foods into portion sizes, but ultimately created too much confusion to be a useful guide.

According to Desiree Tande, an Assistant Professor in the Nutrition and Dietetics Department, MyPlate is divided into such a way that it emphasizes the need for more vegetables and fruits in our diet.

"Most children and adults in the U.S. fail to eat enough fruits and vegetables for good health. Filling ½ of your plate with fruits and vegetables is a great way to start making better food choices. Remember that fruits and vegetables don’t have be fresh. You can choose a combination of dried, canned, frozen, fresh, and 100% juice to make ½ of MyPlate as fruits and vegetables a more economical and practical goal."

Dr. Janice Goodwin

Dr. Desiree Tande

Craig Garaas-Johnson News & Features Editor

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