The food pyramid, long an iconic part of an American education, was retired by the USDA in favor of MyPlate, a simplified icon to help us eat better at every meal. Coinciding with the announcement, The Foundation for the National Archives has curated an exhibit called “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” which takes an in-depth look at how the U.S. government has worked to guide the way its citizens eat.
The National Archive’s exhibit uncovered a fascinating poster from World War II (shown left). Perhaps the most surprising thing about this image that butter is its own food group, but it also gives a glimpse into a moment in American history when rationing threatened to leave those on the home front potentially underfed and malnourished.
Less than seventy years later, the country faces an epidemic of obesity, particularly among its children. MyPlate is offered to U.S. citizens as a tool to reduce calories, eat more fruits and vegetables and understand portion sizes.
With the recent announcement that the food pyramid will be replaced by the new MyPlate icon, Americans are more aware than ever that it’s time to start eating their vegetables.
While the plate icon offers a visual, user-friendly guide to help people make better food choices, some of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, like eating more fish, beans and whole grains, are not addressed.
Cheryl Forberg, RD is a James Beard Award-winning chef, New York Times best-selling author, and nutritionist for NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” Her latest book is “Flavor First,” which can find out more about at Flavorfirst.com. You can follow her on Twitter @cherylforbergrd.
Why were nutritionists so happy when the USDA announced the food pyramid was dead?
When the USDA in 1992 released the food pyramid we’ve all become familiar with, many nutritionists voiced concerns with the diagram. The large base of bread, cereal and grains just gave the impression that you were supposed to eat so much more from that group. Encouraging people to eat so many grains and carbs, nutritionists argued, paved the road to an obesity epidemic.
The original pyramid had long been unpopular and in 2005 it was replaced with a new logo called MyPyramid, a nearly impenetrable glyph depicting a stick figure running up steps on the side of a vertical striped pyramid. Sensitive to fears that the hierarchy of the original could lead to an improper balance, the USDA abstracted the image and turned the breakdowns on their side. The running figure was meant to to remind people that exercise was an important component of proper diet and nutrition. Too bad nobody paid much attention to the essentially meaningless graphic.
This morning Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled the new MyPlate icon, which is replacing the food pyramid. Surgeon General Benjamin opened the remarks, explaining how the U.S. needs to help citizens lead healthy lifestyles, by giving them concrete steps towards improving their health. Besides telling Americans to cut down on sugar, sodium and saturated fats, she says she hopes the new icon will be a tool to help people understand what they can do to improve their diets.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack introduced a short video that highlighted some of the ways the new icon can help families make better choices and introduced MyPlate.gov, a website dedicated to helping Americans eat healthier meals. He described the old food pyramid as “too complex to serve as a quick and easy guide” and explains that MyPlate is a simple, visual, research-based icon built on the 2010 dietary guidelines.