1660254441428 Healthyeatingplate

Toops' Scoops: Kicking the Pyramid Into Oblivion

Oct. 18, 2011
Just as MyPlate begins to get traction, a controversy begins.

Over the years, many food pyramids have debuted, presumably to guide consumers to healthier food choices. They include the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid, which morphed into MyPyramid, Infant Pyramid, MyPyramid for Kids, MyPyramid for Preschoolers and Modified Pyramid for 70+ Adults.

Other, non-USDA Pyramids also been emerged, including the Raw Food Pyramid, Vegan Food Pyramid, Vegetarian Pyramid, Food Pyramid for Athletes, Low Carb Pyramid, Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, Healthy Eating Pyramid, Diabetes Pyramid, Anti-Aging Pyramid, Anti-Inflammatory Pyramid, Healing Foods Pyramid and the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid.

Then there are tongue-in-cheek options such as: The Modern Pyramid (junk food), Latin Food Pyramid, Teenager's Diet Pyramid, Italian Food Pyramid, French Food Pyramid, German Food Pyramid (bratwurst at the base), Asian Food Pyramid, Paleo Food Pyramid, Indian Food Pyramid, Australian Diet Pyramid, Malaysian Food Pyramid, Native American Food Pyramid, Polish Food Pyramid (kielbasa at the base) and Mexican Food Pyramid (enchiladas at the base).

My favorite humorous guides include the Bachelor's Pyramid, College Pyramid (vending food at the base), Canine Pyramid, Meatatarian Food Pyramid (consisting only of meat) and Wisconsin Food Pyramid (with beer at the bottom plus brats and tons of cheese). But, I digress.

Bottom line, a mystical pyramid is an impaired visual symbol, which is probably why it has continued to confuse one and all. In June, with the blessing of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and First Lady Michelle Obama, MyPyramid was kicked to Pyramid Heaven and was replaced by the new MyPlate icon (www.ChooseMyPlate.gov), which emphasizes the fruit, vegetable, grains, protein and dairy food groups. According to USDA, the intent of MyPlate as the government's primary food group symbol is an easy-to-understand visual cue to help consumers adopt healthy eating habits consistent with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

On the surface, a plate would appear to be a step in the right direction to help consumers overcome dietary confusion. But the controversy is beginning to heat up. In mid-September, nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health, in conjunction with colleagues at Harvard Health Publications, unveiled the Healthy Eating Plate (www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource). Similar to the MyPlate icon, it addresses some of the shortcomings in the government's version.

While the images are similar, the Harvard icon is more specific, adding "whole" to the grain section, and notes, "Eat whole grains (like brown rice, whole wheat bread and whole grain pasta). Limit refined grains (like white rice and white bread)." Half the Harvard plate is dedicated to fruits and vegetables, but features vegetables on top of fruits, and specifically singles out potatoes, noting, "potatoes and french fries don't count." It also modifies the "protein" part of the plate with "healthy," noting, "Choose fish, poultry, beans and nuts; limit red meat; avoid bacon, cold cuts and other processed meats."

Two other differences are the presence of a glass of water, tea or coffee (with very little sugar) rather than the serving of dairy the USDA endorses, and the addition of a bottle of oil off to the side. "Use healthy oils (like olive and canola oil) for cooking, on salad and at the table." The Harvard plate also recommends "Limit butter. Avoid trans fat." The image also features a "Stay Active" symbol on the bottom left corner.

"Unfortunately, like the earlier USDA Pyramids, MyPlate mixes science with the influence of powerful agricultural interests, which is not the recipe for healthy eating," said Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition and chair of the Dept. of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health. "The [Harvard] Healthy Eating Plate is based on the best available scientific evidence and provides consumers with the information they need to make choices that can profoundly affect our health and well being."

Section sizes on the Harvard plate suggest approximate relative proportions of each of the food groups to include on a healthy plate. They are not based on specific calorie amounts, and they are not meant to prescribe a certain number of calories or servings per day, since these numbers vary from person to person.

Well, you can't please everyone. I don't totally embrace the recommendations for either plate. While they duke it out at home plate, I'm not giving up potatoes, butter, red meat, cheese, chocolate or wine. But at least consumers can now better choose what to put on their plate, rather than figure out why the bottom of the pyramid recommends the most of what they should eat instead of the top.

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