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Government replaces food guide pyramid with a plate

USA Today, June 1, 2011

The government is replacing its food guide pyramid with a simpler everyday symbol: a plate. And many nutritionists are applauding the change.

The exact look of the new symbol, which is being unveiled Thursday by first lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, is under close wraps.

"What we looked for is a new simple icon that would inspire consumers to act on the dietary guidelines' messages," says Robert Post, deputy director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.

Post says the symbol will be part of a healthy-eating initiative that will convey seven key messages from the dietary guidelines, including: enjoy food but eat less; make half your plate fruits and vegetables; drink water instead of sugary drinks; and switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

The first pyramid was introduced in 1992, and a revised version was released in 2005. The second version ( was widely criticized for being difficult to read. "The last graphic was awful because it was so hard to understand," says registered dietitian Elizabeth Ward, who wrote The Pocket Idiot's Guide to the New Food Pyramids. "It was unfortunate because when you looked at the icon, it meant nothing."

The plate is something people can understand, especially if it actually teaches people what and how much to eat, she says. "It ought to be much more useful for people to relate to."

Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian in Chicago, says the plate has the potential to be really helpful because it allows people to quickly and visually rate their plate and try to get it to look like the icon without measuring or counting. "It may not be the magic bullet to get everyone eating right, but it is a step in the right direction — a simple and clear tool to promote balance, portions, variety and wholesome food at mealtime."

Robyn Flipse, a nutritionist in Bradley, N.J., and author of Fighting the Freshman Fifteen, says the biggest nutrition challenge today is closing the gap between awareness and action. "Most people know what they should eat, but they aren't following through. I hope this new icon helps inspire them to do so."