MyPlate vs. the New Food Pyramid:
What the USDA Still Doesn't Tell You

myplate

The new food pyramid, created in the spring of 2005 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), has now been replaced by something that is not a pyramid at all, but a plate.

The USDA has substituted the MyPlate graphic in an attempt to improve the new food pyramid graphic so choosing healthy foods would be easier for the general public. Unfortunately, it is also relatively useless in showing people the difference between healthy and unhealthy proteins, vegetables, grains, fruits and dairy, and they leave a lot of important dietary guidelines out in their attempt to appease big agriculture and the processed food industry.

The USDA site ChooseMyPlate advises us to eat less in general, eat more fruits and vegetables, and make half the grains we eat whole grains, all of which are good things. However, unless they were raised by wolves, most people are already aware of these suggestions.

They also advise people to drink fat-free or low-fat milk, which is dubious advice. First of all, there is no reason to fear fat in the diet if it comes from healthy fats (in other words, no trans-fats or hydrogenated oils), and second, it is really not necessary for adults to drink milk to get an adequate amount of calcium in their diet. However, as the USDA supports the industrial dairy industry, they have a certain interest in promoting the product.

In regard to their advice about foods to reduce, it is limited to telling us to replace sugary drinks with water, and to choose lower sodium versions of processed foods like soups, bread and frozen meals. As they neglected to do in the new food pyramid, they still completely avoid mentioning the importance of staying away from trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup, again because billions of government dollars are spend subsidizing big agriculture, whose products are used most extensively in processed foods. In essence, MyPlate is not a great deal more informative than the new food pyramid was.

MyPlate vs. the New Food Pyramid

choose myplate

The six rays from the new food pyramid have been replaced by a plate divided into four sections, representing the amounts of protein, fruits, vegetables and grains you should eat during each meal, along with a cup representing dairy. The ray representing fats and oils is gone in MyPlate, which is odd, considering that a large percentage of the American diet is filled with fat, and not usually the good kind. The little figure running up the side of the new food pyramid has also disappeared entirely. I suppose the government has given up on encouraging people to get more exercise.

new food pyramid

The “meat and beans” category in the new food pyramid was changed to “protein” on the MyPlate diagram. This is an improvement, as we already eat considerably more meat than necessary, and while organic grass-fed beef is perfectly healthy in small amounts, it's a good idea to incorporate other protein sources into the diet, such as fish, eggs, beans, nuts and some soy products.

The Food Groups

Let us take a closer look at each of the food groups that make up the MyPlate diagram:

Protein

Protein is an important part of the diet, although most people get more than enough of this daily requirement. Proteins are the building blocks of our body. Meat (including poultry and fish), beans, eggs, nuts and seeds are our main sources of proteins. However, some vegetables and grains are excellent sources of protein as well, and appropriate for vegetarians or vegans.

The average adult needs only about 60 grams (a little over 2 ounces) of protein per day. If using meat as your protein source, however, skip the factory farmed meat in favor of organic, pastured meats that will not be filled with hormones and antibiotics, and are higher in the healthy fatty acids CLA and omega-3, in addition to being lower in saturated fat.

Grains

Most people get enough grains in their diet as well, but it is not always the healthiest type. Most processed foods contain refined flour, in which the healthy bran and germ of the grain has been removed in order to give the product a smoother texture and longer shelf life. However, the refining process also removes much of the important fiber and B-vitamins that are essential to the diet.

Refined grains are to be avoided as much as possible, as they convert to sugars quickly in the blood, leaving you hungry again much sooner, and carrying a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Eat whole grains whenever possible, and if you are gluten intolerant, stick with quinoa, millet, buckwheat and rice.

Vegetables

Vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and are low in fat and calories while providing you with a good amount of dietary fiber. Studies have shown that the more vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to contract diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. However, it is important to eat organic vegetables as often as your budget allows, in order to avoid consuming dangerous pesticides and the possible danger to your health from genetically modified food. Learn about which are the most important foods to buy organic.

Fruits

Fruits, like vegetables, are generally higher in vitamins and minerals than any of the other food groups. Fruits are also a great source of fiber when eaten whole (fruit juice contains no fiber) and are often high in vitamin C, an antioxidant essential to maintaining a healthy immune system and helping to keep harmful free radicals at bay.

Dairy

Dairy products contain many minerals, most notably calcium, which is necessary for developing and maintaining healthy bones. Cheese and yogurt are good sources of dairy, and you get beneficial bacteria from yogurt, aiding in digestion. The best dairy products come from hormone-free cows. Look for organic milk and dairy products that say they're bST-free. Unpasteurized milk and cheese from grass-fed animals is actually healthiest, though difficult to find in the US.


The USDA seems to have given up on the fats section almost entirely in the transition from the new food pyramid. There is a small section on “oils” under “related topics”, however, it provides little information on the place of fats in the diet, which is important for people to understand. Saturated fats are not bad in themselves, particularly if they come in the form of butter and meat from organic, pastured animals. This kind of saturated fat is higher in healthy omega 3 fats and CLA, a fatty acid shown to reduce cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and is necessary for your body to be able to absorb many fat-soluble nutrients.

MyPlate advises us to avoid trans-fats, however, they neglect to mention in their description of hydrogenation that it is what creates those dangerous trans-fats.

Trans-fats actively contribute to various health problems, including cardiovascular problems such as coronary heart disease, by shifting the cholesterol balance from “bad” HDL to “bad” LDL. Margarine and shortening are made from these dangerous hydrogenated oils, so they are some important fats to avoid.

Many of the other fatty acids, such as omega 3, omega 6 and omega 9, are in fact essential. We would get seriously ill, and eventually die, if we cut them out of our diets completely, but we generally get enough of them, apart from the omega 3.

As in the previous new food pyramid, the only place MyPlate mentions sugar is under the “empty calories” section. Not surprisingly, the mention of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is almost absent entirely, appearing only once on a list of what can be considered “added sugars”. Most added sugars are in the form of HFCS, though as more of the public becomes aware of the dangers of this substance, more food companies are returning to the use of plain sugar. This is still not healthy, but better for you than HFCS, which is processed by the liver and directly converted to fat in the body, leading to a greatly increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Considering the USDA updates their dietary guidelines only once every five years, MyPlate is not much of an improvement (if any at all) over the new food pyramid healthy eating guidelines. The problem lies in the billions of dollars spent on promoting industrialized food and big agriculture. If those dollars were instead spent on helping small farms produce a wide range of healthy foods that can both feed their local communities at a reasonable price and still allow enough of a profit for them to be able to make a living, the country as a whole would be a lot healthier.


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