Back in the mid-20th century, the act of balancing nutrition was in a state of arrested infancy. This was a time where processed foods, fast foods, and general foods of convenience were rapidly pushing out the square meals of yesterday. There arose a need, particularly for young America, to establish some sort of nutritional guideline and the ever-popular “Four Basic Food Groups” were created, and they were as follows:
(1) Meats, poultry, fish, dry beans and peas, eggs, and nuts
(2) Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt;
(4) Fruits and vegetables.
Below is a graphic (circa 1956) that demonstrates this concept for otherwise clueless children:
Then in 1992 the United States government realized some of the apparent limitations of these four basics, and erected the iconic Food Guide Pyramid (see graphic below):
This pyramid was highly successful at relentlessly bewildering generations of children and is likely the cause of the current obesity epidemic (OK, that last part is wholly inaccurate, but it is somewhat satisfying to pretend like the mythic pyramid is the root of all nutritional evil). The Food Guide Pyramid was graphically confounding and gave young and old the impression that they needed to have a firm grasp of what constitutes a serving size in order to understand good and sensible nutrition. Also, fats, oils, and sweets were oddly placed at the top of the pyramid, giving the false impression that these nutritional voids were essential toppings for the previous four (now five) basic food groups (and why where they included in the pyramid at all?). Then in 2005, the Food Pyramid was updated to be something less than a hierarchy and more of a fractioned pie chart with a little runner guy trying to climb the thing, all of which did nothing but confound eaters more than ever, and render the Pyramid more obsolete than ever (see below):
Now, as part of the FLOTUS (Michelle Obama’s) ongoing nutritional efforts, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, something new has been introduced that dismantles the flawed Food Pyramid once and for all. Check out MyPlate, which is a more basic graphic depicting a dinner plate split into four quadrants, with an accompanying cup or side plate.
The graphic is obviously more user friendly and intuitive (we don’t generally eat off of pyramids, but plates are common when we are not consuming our meals out of Burger King bags while attempting to drive). The Agriculture Department has also launched an accompanying website to promote the new “plate” idea, which includes tip sheets that encourage Americans to eat fish twice a week and avoid high-fat and salty foods. The new plate icon, while being an ideal graphic for those of us who detest the idea of having our foods mixed together, is also a means of simplifying the message. In essence, it is an attempt to make us more mindful and disciplined about what we are eating, not just on a daily basis, but also meal by meal.
Assuredly the MyPlate development is an improvement, but hardly a perfect solution to the longstanding problem of how to promote good and balanced nutrition. The icon alone doesn’t address things like portion size or the fact that the protein quadrant is exceedingly vague, as grains and dairy can all contain significant amounts of protein (that said, it is nice to finally see meat replaced by the more interpretive “protein”).
What is your feeling on MyPlate? Is this an improvement on the old model? Do these sorts of charts and graphs actually make an impact on national nutrition, or are they an abundant waste of money (the current MyPlate campaign required around two million in tax dollars to happen)? How could this model be greatly improved to actually reach out to the people that need this guidance the most?