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MyPlate: The Food Pyramid for dummies?

June 3, 2011 |  3:13 pm

MyPlate When I saw MyPlate for the first time on Thursday, I thought it was a little insulting. The design illustrating the U.S. Dietary Guidelines seemed so hit-you-over-the-head obvious, I thought they might as well have called the new graphic Eating for Dummies. Clearly, I'm the dummy. While poking around the Web, I've come across several frustrated commentators  noting that MyPlate doesn't address nuances (e.g. are potatoes carbs or vegetables?) and leaves too much room for interpretation.

Here's Dr. Andrew Weil, founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, on the subject:

In the "Fruits" section, no distinction is made between fruit juices and fruits -- a half cup of fruit juice is listed as equivalent to a half cup of fruit. This ignores the fact that the glycemic load -- an indication of how quickly a food is converted to blood sugar -- is far higher in fruit juices than in fruits. Metabolically, the difference between a glass of filtered, pasteurized apple juice and a glass of soda is minor. It is far better to eat the whole fruit, as the accompanying fiber dramatically slows digestion, leading to more stable blood sugar and a longer-lasting feeling of fullness that can help prevent overeating.

Similarly, in the "Grains" section, there's no difference cited between intact grains -- I term these "true whole grains" -- and grains that are ground into flour. As with fruits, keeping grains intact, rather than pulverized, slows digestion and stabilizes blood sugar.

In the "Protein" section, I appreciate the fact that fish is emphasized -- we are urged to eat 8 ounces per week, which would help Americans improve their woefully deficient consumption of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.  But it's unfortunate to see swordfish among the recommended species. Not only is it vastly overfished, but as a predator species, it tends to bioaccumulate toxins such as mercury. I recommend striped bass, wild Alaskan salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, mackerel and Alaskan halibut, as these meet the dual criteria of abundant stocks and low toxic residues.

In the "Dairy" section, I'm disappointed to see a strong emphasis on low-fat and fat-free choices. This advice is becoming outdated, as new research has revealed full-fat dairy does not pose a heart-health risk, and may offer unique benefits.

The Food section’s Renee Lynch also took issue with MyPlate and offers this suggestion for a possible MyPlate 2.0:

[G]iven that there is only one point that all diets agree upon -- the need for more fresh vegetables -- wouldn't a better, albeit more radical design, call for a dinner plate made up of 50% fresh, non-starchy vegetables, 25% protein, and the remaining 25% as -- choose just one -- grains, fruit or a starchy veg?

But does the FoodPlate, much less picking it apart, make an ounce of difference to people who don’t have access to healthful choices in the first place? Hank Cardello, author of "Stuffed: An Insider's Look at Who's (Really) Making America Fat," has an answer for that. 

Perhaps there is another way to address the food desert dilemma. Instead of prompting grocers to enter unprofitable markets, why don't we bring the inner city residents to the grocery stores? After all, there are over 30,000 supermarkets located in nearby suburban and non-rural areas. It's just a question of finding an easy way to transport the shoppers.

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--Alexandra Le Tellier

Credit: MyPlate.gov

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