New Icon Reveals the Power of the Plate

June 2, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Pyramid power is out. The power of the plate is in.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled a new food icon, MyPlate, on June 2. It will replace the MyPyramid icon used in nutrition education since 2005.

"The MyPlate icon is intended to be a very simple reminder for people to apply the 2010 Dietary Guidelines," said Julie Kennel, nutrition program specialist for Ohio State University Extension and director of the dietetic internship program in Ohio State University's Department of Human Nutrition. The icon and supporting materials for consumers are available at http://www.choosemyplate.gov.

"It incorporates basic messages such as 'Make half of your plate vegetables and fruit,' and the idea that protein doesn't necessarily have to be meat," Kennel said. "I think it's a good tool that can be applied in every household."

The icon is based on the "plate method," which is often used in nutrition programs -- particularly those designed for people with diabetes. "We've used it in OSU Extension's 'Dining with Diabetes' programs for years," Kennel said. The plate method encourages people to manage portions not by weighing and measuring foods but by putting more vegetables on their plate and less protein and grains.

Of course, the MyPlate icon also has its limitations, Kennel said, including:

  • The icon includes a symbol to include dairy, which is great, Kennel said, "but you don't get the message to switch to fat-free or low-fat milk."
  • Similarly, the portion on the MyPlate icon reserved for grains offers no indication that at least half of a person's grain intake should be from whole grains.
  • Although vegetables take up a good portion of the MyPlate icon, "it doesn't help if people continue to just eat potatoes and corn as their vegetables every night." A healthful diet requires a wide variety of vegetables.
  • The size of the plate also matters. "If your plate is oversized, like so many tend to be these days, that alone can lead to oversized portions," Kennel said.

Kennel encourages consumers to look at the MyPlate website and download some of the other materials available, particularly the "Ten Tips" series of one-page tip sheets.

The first one, "Choose MyPlate," is a good place to start, she said. It gives more details on how to incorporate the 2010 Dietary Guidelines into day-to-day food choices. Other tip sheets look at specific food groups, ways to eat more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and other ideas for healthful eating.

In addition, the website still offers popular interactive tools, allowing consumers to create a personalized eating plan or analyze their diet.

Kennel doesn't believe the new icon will work miracles in improving the typical American diet. "It will act as a good reminder for people, but it won't alone change consumer behavior," Kennel said. "That's where Extension nutrition education comes in."

For nutrition information from the nationwide Cooperative Extension System, including OSU Extension, see http://www.extension.org and choose the "Family" resource area, and then "Families, Food and Fitness."

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Author(s): 
Martha Filipic
Source(s): 
Julie Kennel