Friday, June 3, 2011

The USDA's New Food Icon: My Thoughts

By now you know about the new USDA food icon, a really easy to understand plate. The icon has in the last several days received some accolades and some flak, though not usually both from the same person.

The pyramid was AWFUL. It rooted grains at the base of our eating. And by looking at the food of an entire day, it allowed one to overeat in certain categories with the idea that deficits could be made up later in the day. And it did nothing to help people learn how to properly build a meal. Although I have often said that no one food is good or bad as the day in which it was eaten, the fact that the pyramid offered little suggestion on how to build a meal trumps any discussion it might have raised about examining a whole day’s foods.

The USDA introduced today in Washington DC this icon.

Things I do like about the icon:

*It is very easy to understand. The icon helps even children to visualize what a meal should look like. Visualization is KEY, because in many cases pictures can communicate ideas better than words can. Words are open to interpretation. And although it is written in English, I see that the tool could easily be used for those who do not speak English. It is easily transferrable into many languages.

*Fruits and veggies should compromise half the plate. I like that. We need additional help getting more veggies in our diet.

*Dairy is off to the side as a compliment to a meal. As devotional as I am to dairy, I recognize it plays a supporting role in nutrition and one can get along without it. However, cheese is not a meat substitute as many of us have been raised to believe. If only I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say “Pizza is a complete food-grains, veggies (sauce and toppings), meat (pepperoni, really?) and dairy!” Cheese, when eaten in excess, has its own health issues and is not a meat substitute.

*There is no discussion of servings or milligrams or portion sizes and I love that. People should be encouraged to use more intuition when it comes to food. Portion size is not the same for a 100 pound woman as a 225 pound man, nutrient needs are different. But what should be driven home is a discussion about food not nutrients.

*The icon addresses meals and not snacks. I think the fallacy of ‘eat 5 small meals a day’ has served to increase food sales, expand our nation’s waistlines and justify all day noshing. Quit snacking and eat real meals. If I don’t eat enough real food to last me for the 6 hours in between lunch and dinner I need more food at lunch, period.

Things I do NOT like about the icon

*I don’t like that fruit makes it on the plate at all. It should be off to the side with milk. Fruit certainly is not necessary at every meal.

*I understand the need to follow the icon us with some words and explanation. But the VISUAL tool will be the most important part of the whole thing. The words will likely be lost.

*Protein should really be listed as ‘Proteins’ because there are a various array of them, the same as ‘Vegetables’ and ‘Grains’ are displayed. Although perhaps that is because the USDA does not want to encourage us to eat multiple sources of protein as our diets are not really protein deficient at all?

*The icon doesn’t address processed foods at all. Big surprise.

*The USDA is still ramming the questionable health of low fat dairy down our throats. Switch to whole people, and when you hear 10 years from now that whole was always actually better for you, send me an email.

*THERE IS STILL NO DISCUSSION OF SUGAR!!! ARRRGGGH! There is one crummy mention of reducing sugary drinks, but I think sugar as a total is worth mentioning. Will it ever happen? Probably not in my lifetime.

What do you think? Is the new icon a step in the right direction? Or a leap backwards?


  1. I agree with all your comments, and I'd like to add one more. They totally left fats off the icon. As we both know certain fats, in moderation, are very good for our health. We need them. However, I do disagree with your comment about eating 5 small meals a day. I think that it is kind of up to each individual. I used to eat three square meals a day and I couldn't lose a pound. I've switched to eating small meals every 2 to 3 hours and I'm finally starting to lose weight (and I snack less because basically I'm taking my meals and breaking them up throughout the day and "snacking" on that instead). I'm a snacker, so it works for me :).

  2. And the article I read said that they changed the "meat/cheese" to "protien" in order to allow for different sources of protien like beans, tofu, etc.

  3. I hadn't even seen this but I have hated the pyramid so much that I'm willing to like this one. I think I may blog about it also if that's okay with you.