Now that we’ve spent some time living with the USDA’s food pyramid replacement, MyPlate, it’s time for a review of its merits.
First, the good things.
1. It’s easy! – The bold, simple graphic is easy to remember and easy to use. Even if you don’t have the design marked on your plate, you can visualize it in your head. You don’t have to think very hard about the recommended portions of different food groups.
2. It encourages healthier eating habits. – If you are like most Americans, eating according to the MyPlate recommendations will automatically increase your intake of healthy fruits and vegetables, which most of us lack. You may also decrease your intake of proteins, especially fatty meats.
3. It’s safe. – Although there is some controversy over some of the recommendations (more on that later), you can safely use it for your entire family. It is better-balanced and definitely a big improvement over the typical American diet, and it has the backing of many doctors and nutritionists.
Now, the downsides and controversies.
1. It may not reduce calorie intake. – Although switching to more fruits and vegetables and decreasing meat portions should decrease the calories you consume, it’s not guaranteed. If you load up the veggies with butter, cheese sauce or full-fat salad dressing, it’s not going to help much in the calorie department. In some cases, you could even eat more calories than if you ate a larger piece of plain grilled chicken or lean beef.
2. It’s controversial. – Some nutritionists claim that the food industry lobbies had too much say over the recommendations, pushing meat, protein and dairy products. And these are the same food industries that receive the bulk of government funding assistance.
3. It’s hard to customize. – The MyPlate website has many recommendations for portion and serving sizes based on a person’s age, gender and activity level. But these are hard to find and even harder to implement. MyPlate tells you different proportions of food to eat, but doesn’t easily tell you how much to eat. And since everyone is different, we all require different amounts of food. How do you conveniently use MyPlate for your children? Your toddler vs. your teen age son? And they both have very different calorie needs than you.
4. Doesn’t accommodate special dietary restrictions. – What if you can’t eat fruit? You’re diabetic? Gluten intolerant? Then MyPlate won’t work for you.
5. Assumes separated foods. – It’s hard to use this new system with “mixed foods” like stir-fry, stew, soup, etc. How do you estimate how much of each food group it contains?
6. It doesn’t decrease overall food consumption. - Even if you eat according to the picture, you may still be overeating. You may still gain weight. MyPlate does not really address the issue of overall consumption. If you continue to eat the same amount of food, even if it’s healthier food, you may not lose weight. And even if you do lose weight at first, eventually you will reach that dreaded plateau. To get past that, you will need to eat less.
One way to solve this problem is to combine MyPlate with a system that helps you reduce your total consumption. We recommend the Dish Diet (dishdiet.com), which will help you reduce your overall portion size in a simple, gradual way to achieve your weight goals.
In summary, MyPlate is a definite improvement over the old Food Pyramid, and should be helpful for many people, but is does have some significant shortcomings you need to be aware of.