The New Shape of Nutrition

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently changed the Food Guide, better known as the Food Pyramid, for the third time in the past three decades. On June 2nd, First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the MyPlate Food Guide, which, like the prior food pyramid, contains five major food groups. Instead of the pyramid format, the food groups are placed proportionately (and colorfully) on a plate.

Aside from the new shape, MyPlate encourages Americans to balance consumption of fruits and vegetables with protein and grain; that is, you should eat just as many fruits and veggies as grains and protein. A small portion of dairy is featured on a small plate off to the side.

We all know we should eat more fruits and veggies than meat and dairy; so why change the Food Guide Pyramid?
Deputy director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotions, Robert C. Post, said the previous “MyPyramid was failing to capture the public’s attention.” The new shape of the Food Guide is meant to capture the attention of  consumers and make us more mindful of our eating habits.

You can’t entirely blame the tendency to overindulge in meat and dairy on the American people, however. Agricultural
subsidies clearly favor production of meat and dairy, as farmers who grow corn and fodder for feed account for the top subsidy total ($73,792,669,478 from 1995-2009). The system encourages farmers to grow corn, which in turn is fed to cattle and other livestock.

A staff nutritionist of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), Kathryn Strong, MS, RD, states that “the USDA’s new plate icon couldn’t be more at odds with federal food subsidies. The plate icon advises Americans to limit high-fat products like meat and cheese, but the federal government is subsidizing these very products with billions of tax dollars and giving almost no support to fruits and vegetables.” Fruits and vegetables currently make up less than one percent of federal agricultural subsidies support.

In 2009, PCRM created the Power Plate promoting a vegetarian diet with four equal food groups: fruits, grains, legumes, and vegetables. According to PCRM, the power plate is meant to “ask people to eat a variety of all four food groups each day.”

The bottom line: Eat a balanced diet with generous portions of fruits and vegetables.