Although it took w-a-y too long to come up with it, the USDA has finally unveiled an icon for the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines (which weren't published until Feb. 2011. Those government wheels turn pretty slowly.)
I'm happy to see a return to something that's simple to figure out at a glance. It's pretty easy to understand that half of your meals should be fruits and vegetables, with veggies taking up the largest amount. That's a change from the usual "one meat, one starch and one vegetable" approach to a meal. And dairy is clearly designated as the drink of choice, although cheese, yogurt, fortified soy milk, etc. can satisfy the recommended three servings a day. At MyPlate.gov, you can click on the plate icon for in-depth information on each food group.
The government has been issuing some form of dietary guidelines since 1894, but probably the best remembered was the "Basic Four" in 1956, which divided food into four main groups — dairy, protein, fruits and vegetables, and grain products. It was widely used for the next 20 years. I think MyPlate is a return to that simplicity.
In 1992, the Food Guide Pyramid came out, suggesting servings from each of five major food groups — the bread and cereal group, the vegetable group, the fruit group, the dairy group and the protein group — and recommended sparing use of fats, oils and sweets.
In 2005, it was changed to MyPyramid, and showed a picture of someone running up the steps of the food pyramid as a way to stress the need for exercise. Consumers had to visit the MyPramid website to figure out their own personal nutrition information. I don't know if many people took the time to do it.
The dietary guidelines are based on the latest developments in nutritional science, with a bit of politics from the food industry, trade organizations and food activists. The guidelines serve as the basis for federal food and nutrition programs such as the USDA's school lunch program. And they are supposed to set the dietary tone for the country — although many of us don't follow it very well.
The new report noted that obesity is rampant: More than one-third of children and more than two-thirds of adults in the U.S. are reportedly overweight or obese. No surprises there.
Gee, did we really need a huge scientific government program to help us figure out that we are eating too much salt, too much sugar and too much fat? Is anyone shocked to find out that we need to eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat dairy products?
In the fall, the MyPlate.gov will launch a suite of interactive web-based tools: