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Published on June 03, 2011

New Dietary Guide Replaces Food Pyramid

Read Jane’s full story on WellCommons.

The USDA has ushered in a new era in nutrition, by wiping the food pyramid from all of its sites yesterday and replacing it with the five-group food plate, with your choice of colored place mats -- green, blue, yellow and magenta. Yes, magenta. The five groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, protein and dairy.

According to this Associated Press story:

The new plate is simply guidance for those looking to improve their diet, however. It’s supposed to be a suggestion, not a direction, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"We are not telling people what to eat, we are giving them a guide," he said. "We’re not suggesting they should not have a cookie or dessert, that’s not what it’s about." Vilsack said the new round chart shows that nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated. After almost 20 years of leaders preaching good eating through a food pyramid the department now says was overly complex, obesity rates have skyrocketed.

He showed off the new plate with first lady Michelle Obama, who has made healthful diets for children a priority through her "Let’s Move" campaign. "Parents don’t have the time to measure out exactly three ounces of protein," Mrs. Obama said as she introduced the new graphic. "We do have time to look at our kids’ plates."

The USDA provided a history of food guidelines, as did CBSnews.com, beginning in 1941 with eight food groups, including three separate groups for fruits & veggies, and one for eggs.

Going through the slide show, I realized that if information was all it took to lower obesity rates, the decades of education, including a new spate of diet books published each year, should have done the trick by now. But, there’s just not a one-size-fits-all to eating healthy and being fit. We’ve just begun to address our physical environment as a contributor to good health (are our kids getting healthy school lunches, are there enough parks, safe streets, jogging paths for people to exercise in, etc.). We’ve hardly begun to come to grips with the long-term effects that child trauma and mental illness have on living healthy lives.

Nutrition expert Marion Nestle provided a behind-the-scenes look at the development of the food guidelines on her Food Politics blog. It’s well worth a read. She pointed out that Republicans in Congress are pushing back against the healthier-eating initiatives of the Obama administration. According to another Associated Press article, Republicans want the USDA to rewrite rules it issued in January to make school meals healthier, they question a proposal to restrict marketing unhealthy foods to children and want the Food and Drug Administration to limit rules that require calorie counts on menus.

The school lunch guidelines are the first major nutritional overhaul of students’ meals in 15 years. Under the guidelines, schools would have to cut sodium in subsidized meals by more than half, use more whole grains and serve low-fat milk. They also would limit kids to only one cup of starchy vegetables a week, so schools couldn’t offer french fries every day.

The starchy vegetable proposal has been criticized by conservatives who think it goes too far and members of Congress who represent potato-growers. They say potatoes are a low-cost food that provides fiber and other nutrients.

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