The USDA's new icon MyPlate http://www.choosemyplate.gov replaces the old MyPyramid as America’s basic nutrition information tool. “The changes to this educational instrument make it much more amenable to a vegetarian audience than the previous MyPyramid and suggest that the Seventh-day Adventist call to a vegetarian lifestyle may be getting through” says Joan Sabaté, Chair of the Department of Nutrition at Loma Linda University. Of particular interest is the food group titles that have been chosen for MyPlate. The five food groups in MyPryamid were Grains, Vegetables, Fruits, Milk, Meat & Beans. These are all names of foods. For the new icon the titles have become Vegetables, Fruits, Grains, Protein, Dairy. Meat, which is a food has been replaced by Protein, a nutrient. While protein sources are generally thought of as animal products, this change does leave the door open to a vegetarian interpretation: legumes, including soy products and nuts are excellent sources of protein.
MyPlate is a much more intuitive symbol to convey a message about eating. Fruits and vegetables fill half the plates and protein is the smallest portion in the new graphic. When we sit down to eat we can now simply look at our own plate and evaluate if it is half filled with fruits and vegetables, as recommended by the new tool. Both versions of the previous pyramid icon were not as simple to translate to individual eating experiences. School age children, those who are most exposed to the USDA nutrition icon, will easily be able to grasp the importance of fruits and vegetables from the new image. “The plate is a more appropriate model for an eating guideline tool,” says Dr. Sabaté. He was the principal architect of the Vegetarian Food Pyramid, an eating guideline for vegetarians. “In the near future we will be revising our graphic to this friendlier format.”
A few other differences between the plate and the pyramid are interesting to notice. The original pyramid (the 1992 version) had fats and sweets at the top of the pyramid, indicating that this should form the least part of our diet. But “on top” can also mean “most important” which is the opposite message the icon was trying to convey. In the updated pyramid (the 2005 version) fats and sweets are just a sliver of the graphic; they are not part of the plate graphic. The differences in portion size are much easier to identify on the plate than they were on the pyramid. The pyramid version that was released in 2005, that replaced the version is use since 1992, was especially hard to translate to portion size. The plate makes a much clearer statement about relative amount between food groups and sends an easy-to-grasp message about which foods we should be eating most – vegetables.
While we applaud the USDA’s new icon and appreciate that it is more inclusive of a fast growing vegetarian population, yet it is not amenable for strict vegetarians (in short called vegans). Those who choose to practice any form of vegetarian lifestyle may want a more comprehensive tool. For now, the Loma Linda University, Department of Nutrition Vegetarian Food Pyramid http://www.vegetariannutrition.org/food-pyramid.pdf provides all inclusive information for them. The 4-page brochure http://www.vegetariannutrition.org/food-pyramid.pdf can be viewed at the vegetarian nutrition website http://www.vegetariannutrition.org.