USDA's MyPlate Is Here

Gretchen Becker Health Guide
  • Finally! The notorious USDA Food Pyramid is gone.

     

    At a cost of $2 million, they've replaced it with something called MyPlate, which divides your plate into approximately fourths and has each fourth containing either protein, fruits, vegetables, or grains. There's also an extra-plate site for dairy. Looks like a place for a glass of milk, but if you like cheese, you could squnch it up with your fingers until it made a round ball and stick it on the Dairy plate. I suppose you could also take a huge hunk of butter, almost as large as the protein section of the plate, according to this scheme.

     

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    And oh yes. You also get a plastic fork with this $2 million plan.

     

    When I was in elementary school way back in the 20th century, we were told there were things called Food Groups. You were supposed to eat something from each one of the Food Groups every day.

     

    Frankly, I can't recall how many of these things there were then, as Food Groups were not high on my list of interests in the sixth grade, but through the ages, they've varied from 4 to 12. The biggest list, the 12, which was proposed by HK Stiebeling in the 1930s, was as follows:

     

    (1) Milk and milk products; (2) lean meat, poultry, fish; (3) dry mature beans, peas and nuts; (4) eggs; (5) flours and cereals, (6) leafy green and yellow vegetables; (7) potatoes and sweet potatoes; (8) other vegetables and fruit; (9) tomatoes and citrus; (10) butter; (11) other fats; (12) sugar.

     

    Apparently you weren't supposed to eat non-lean meats at all or maybe you trimmed off the fat and dumped it into the "other fats" group.

     

    From 1956 through 1970s, there were only 4 basic Food Groups:

     

    (1) Milk, (2) meat, (3) bread and cereal, and (4) vegetables and fruits.

     

    For the average homemaker, the smaller lists do make more sense, even if they're not as specific. For instance, many people would think they were filling the vegetables requirement by eating french fries, whereas the longer list separates out leafy vegetables from potatoes, starchy vegetables ("other vegetables"), and high-vitamin C vegetables.

     

    But what person busy raising a family would sit down and make sure the family had some food from each of 12 different Food Groups every day?

     

    As time passed, the number of Food Groups continued to go up and down. The infamous Food Pyramid had 6 Food Groups.

     

    Now it seems we're back to 5, the same as the Basic Four if you combine vegetables and fruits.

     

    I think it's a colossal waste of our tax dollars to hire "experts" to come up with new ways of presenting different food groups to the public. Why not just tell people, "Eat a variety of foods every day, emphasizing fresh whole foods and avoiding processed foods when you can." That's a simple message people might listen to.

     

    But I guess some people did listen to the Food Pyramid advice to eat more rice, crackers, cereal, noodles, and bread (as illustrated on the original Food Pyramid) and less fat. And the country got fatter and fatter.

     

    The Food Pyramid also suggested eating fewer sweets, but most people were bombarded with the "Eat less fat" message, and lots of foods that were basically fat-free candy had big labels saying "No Fat," so people ate a lot of them. And they got even fatter and fatter.

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    One problem with a pyramid shape is that most people won't remember the recommended portion size or servings per day. In fact, six servings of starchy foods wasn't a lot for nondiabetics. Instead, people would remember that they should eat more starches than other foods, as one influential nutritionist wrote, "The more the better." The American Dietetic Association told people to "make starch the star!"

     

    In that sense, the new nutritional guide is better than the Food Pyramid, but it still has some basic flaws. It recommends as much fruit as protein. Wild fruits contain vitamins and minerals and some sugar. Commercial fruits have been bred to be as sweet as possible. Filling almost a quarter of your plate with sugary fruits makes no sense for anyone.

     

    For those of us with diabetes, having another quarter of the plate consist of grains is also questionable, although some people are able to tolerate higher carbohydrate loads than others.

     

    And apparently Americans can't eat any fats or sweets at all, unless they're hiding under the plate. This is unrealistic.

     

    But the real problem is that most people don't eat meals that contain easily identifiable portions of protein, fruits, veggies, and grains. Too many Americans eat too many of their meals at restaurants or as premade dinners that they eat at home. If you're eating a bean burrito, how much of that consists of meat and how much of grain or fat? How about a pizza? Or pork fried rice? Or Mrs Zimmerman's ham and oyster pie? Even with a perfect food plate that we could all agree on (unlikely ever to happen as different people do best on different diets), fitting prepared foods into the scheme is almost impossible.

     

    And changing the guidelines every 5 years is insane. When people listen to the USDA and try to absorb its message and then 4 or 5 years later the message changes, how likely are they to believe what the USDA says in the future? Me, not at all.

     

    But if they persist on changing guidelines, I'd be happy to help out. If anyone has connections at the USDA, please tell them I'd be willing design the next USDA Food Guide for them? I'd do it quickly. And I'm cheap. I'd charge only $500,000. Call me anytime.

     

Published On: June 09, 2011