Thursday, June 2, 2011

Time to Choose My Plate with the USDA

The Plate is here! Upon first glance, I must honestly say, I wasn't too impressed, but after a closer examination, I am changing my tune. Here are some of the things I really like about the USDA's new nutritional icon:

The Halves Have It

When we think of a good, nutritious meal the picture in our mind often is of a plate full of all that satiates us. Our problem, however, is how we stack that plate. Look closely at how this place setting is arranged - vertically, our plate has been cut down the middle.
  • The Left-Hand Side The entire left hand side of the plate is dedicated to fruits and vegetables. How often does your plate look this way? One of the first changes I have made in my quest for healthier eating was to make sure that half of my dinner plate had vegetables on it - it is a simple visual change you can make to every meal you eat.
  • The Right-Hand Side On the other side of the plate are the grains and proteins, but look closely at how that space is divvied up. The protein, often what people think of first when designing their meal, is actually a very small proportion of it! How much plate real estate does your protein usually require? Again, with no measurements, just visualizing your plate you can be on the road to more healthful eating by following this diagram.

The Education Series is User-friendly & Jam-Packed

The USDA website created a bunch of other materials to go along with the plate icon, in order to help people, who are curious, to further delve into their new Nutritional plate information. One of my favorite and, I think, essential add-ons is their Ten Tips Nutritional Education Series where 10 Tips to a Great Plate sheet is Tip Sheet #1.

In addition to this sheet, you will find sheets for each of the following that are just as simple and concrete. They are understandable actions we can take to walk the path to healthier eating!

Add More Vegetables to Your Day
Focus on Fruits
Make Half Your Grains Whole
Got Your Dairy Today?
With Protein Foods, Variety Is Key
Build a Healthy Meal
Healthy Eating for Vegetarians
Smart Shopping for Veggies and Fruits
Liven up Your Meals With Vegetables and Fruits
Kid-Friendly Veggies and Fruits
Be a Healthy Role Model for Children
Cut Back on Your Kid's Sweet Treats
Salt and Sodium
And, according to the web site there are even more tips to come!!

The Website Feel Promising
With talks of more tips to come,  and a box containing a "Tip of the Day" it does not seem too far-fetched that this website will continue to have something to offer users as time goes by. Some of the interactive tools still have the "MyPyramid" title on them, but, otherwise, almost everything I checked out seems to be updated to work with the new "MyPlate" system.

Some of the reasons why I think everyone should check into for themselves are:
  • The sections on guidelines for Specific Audiences - such as those Breastfeeding, looking to lose weight or with kids.
  • Play around with some of the interactive tools, like making your own Personal Daily Food Plan based on your physique and physical activity.
  • Just to learn more about the basic food groups or your food, in general!
There's lots to do over there, so just pop in and out, see what you find, see what you learn and share it with others!

Some Quick Reservations
There are just a couple of things I am a little disappointed in at this point and I am hoping are on their way.

In terms of the "Special Audiences" section of the website, I was expecting to see something for vegetarians, those with food allergies, or even those with food-related illnesses such as Diabetes or Celiac. While it could be argued that such information should be dealt with medical professionals and not in such a broad-strokes fashion that the Internet requires, I think some mention of even this fact would be appreciated.

I was disappointed to find the "MyPyramid" label on some of the Interactive tools. I doubt this changes the effectiveness of these tools, but if I have decided to Choose My Plate, I would like the Tracker and Meal Planner to coincide with that choice. Hopefully it does, or at least maybe it will. The difference can't be that extreme, can they?  


All in all, I have to say Kudos to the USDA!

The food groups are back, clearly labeled, proportioned and laid out, ready to eat. The resources on the site are helpful, the tips are doable, and understandable to a wide audience. I can look at each of my meals and pretty much determine where I stand in terms of the new guidelines, without the help of tons of tools, but if I wish to dive deeper into my nutrition there are even more specific guidelines and tools to personalize my experience.
How does the plate look to you?
Are you already doing this?
Is there something you wish the USDA added/subtracted?

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