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Healthy Recipe Doctor

with Elaine Magee, MPH, RD

Elaine Magee's blog has now been retired. We appreciate all the wisdom and support she has brought to the WebMD community throughout the years.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

From the Food Pyramid to the Plate

My Plate icon

Admittedly, it’s a tough order to come up with a food graphic that encompasses healthy eating guidelines for the entire population… a population that includes a range of different nutrition needs, from elite athletes and vegans, to people at risk of developing eating disorders.

I’ll be honest, I was never fond of the food pyramid but at the same time, there really wasn’t a viable alternative to it either. I guess part of me just couldn’t wrap my head around summing everything up in one graphic.

Now, after 19 years of hitching their nutrition wagon to the food pyramid, policy makers have opted for the simplicity of a new graphic called My Plate. I like that it includes a symbol that represents sitting down to a real meal — a plate — rather than a takeout bag or frozen dinner box. And I like that it appears to recommend a balanced diet potentially encompassing all major food groups (protein, grains, fruits and vegetables, and dairy).

Here’s what I’m not so happy about. We tend not to make food choices that fit neatly into each of these food categories. What do we do with mixed dishes like the American favorites pizza, macaroni and cheese, chicken caesar salad, or hamburgers? It doesn’t really address smart fats (found in olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocado, fish, etc.) that contribute nutrients and to the enjoyment of food.

The major educational messages under the plate graphic include the potentially contradictory and restrictive message, “Enjoy your food but eat less.” This message doesn’t serve the best interests of children, teens, or young adults who are competitive athletes, or are restrictive or obsessive about their food already.

And strong-arming kids and Americans to “make half your plate fruits and vegetables” (another message under the plate graphic) seems to me to reinforce the idea that fruits and vegetables are something to get through rather than celebrate and enjoy.

What’s missing are the important messages:

  • Family meals are a key piece of eating well.
  • Eat as much as you are hungry for.
  • Slow down and enjoy your meal (rather than eating quickly and mindlessly).

What do you think about the new My Plate graphic?

Posted by: Elaine Magee, RD at 8:28 am

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