From Pyramids to Plates: MyPlate, the New Food Icon

When you were in school, you probably learned about the five food groups (breads, dairy, meat, fruit and vegetables) right?   You may have also learned how to use the Food Pyramid as a guide for choosing healthy foods:  eat more servings from the groups closer to the “base” of the pyramid and fewer from the ones at the “top”. 

In 2005, the Food Pyramid underwent a bit of a makeover. Instead of stacking the food groups on top of each other like the image above, the new image—called MyPyramid— had six vertical color-coded stripes, each color representing a different food group.  Each stripe was a different width; wider ones represented foods to eat more of while thinner ones represented foods to eat in moderation.  MyPyramid also featured the figure of a person climbing up the side as a way of illustrating the link between diet and exercise in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. 

One of the biggest drawbacks to MyPyramid was that it could be a bit confusing.  The stripes representing the different food groups were not labeled, meaning it was hard to tell just by looking at it which foods were recommended (though this information was available online).  So, in June of this year the USDA retired MyPyramid and unveiled a new the new healthy eating guide:  MyPlate. 

Like its name suggests the new food icon is in the shape of a dinner plate, but one that’s been divided into four different sections.  The four pieces represent fruits, vegetables (which combined fill half the plate), grains and protein plus another small circle alongside representing low-fat dairy.  Compared to a pyramid, the plate is easier to use:  when putting together your meal, make your plate look as close to the icon as possible (i.e. fill half with veggies and divide the remaining space between grains and lean protein).  Still, the new icon isn’t embraced by everyone.  The Harvard School of Public Health, for example, criticized the icon for not including healthy fats and oils or distinguishing clearly between whole and refined grains.  They recently released their own visual eating guide called Healthy Eating Plate in response. 

What do you think of MyPlate?  Do you find it useful, confusing, better/worse than the previous food pyramids?

 (Post content reviewed by MGH Nutrition Department)