Strengths & Weaknesses Of The New ChooseMyPlate Model

Earlier this year the USDA introduced a new food model so Americans could better understand what we need to eat for health and prevention. The model shifted away from the reigning My Pyramid, to a simple round plate. Fashioned with vividly colored geometric shapes, the new ChooseMyPlate approach is a move in the right direction, though there are definitely some chips in the china that need to be fixed.

Visually, ChooseMyPlate is much easier to follow. The size of the shapes directly correspond to the proportions we should build on our plates. The green vegetables are the largest graphic on the plate, a welcome change symbolizing the importance of granting vegetables the bulk of our plates. The orange grains group is the next most prominent, followed by the red fruit and the blue dairy groups.

ChooseMyPlate.gov offers more helpful nutrition and lifestyle information on subsequent pages, called “Selected Messages”. One suggested welcome sight is that we drink more water, instead of soda or juice. It is also refreshing to see issues such as monitoring sodium content and portion control are highlighted. I was particularly happy to see encouragement towards eating across the rainbow of fruits & veggies in order to get all the vitamins & minerals we need to attain our best health and prevent disease.

However, one big chip on the plate is that there is simply not enough information. While the Selected Messages on the government website do offer more pertinent details, it is doubtful that most people will seek out this information while surfing the Internet, let alone notice it is even there.

Another huge crack is the missing guidelines in regard to proper portion sizes. While the plate pictures proportions, it does not give specific portions. For instance, we can eyeball a 4 ounce protein serving by using our palm as a template. Or, our pinky finger is the perfect ounce of cheese or peanut butter. With the issue of obesity looming as one of the largest health concerns in the US, knowing portion size and proper caloric allowances is an urgent need for most Americans.

Another weakness in the plate is that the fruit serving does not differentiate between whole fruit & fruit juice, which makes a huge difference when trying to prevent and treat diabetes & weight control. Also unclear is that we need to include Omega 3 fish such as salmon to our meat servings for maximum heart health.

Keeping in mind the importance of lifestyle to our overall health and well-being, the opportunity to include a visual, highlighting the importance of regular exercise and sufficient sleep in our wellness programs could be considered. Another valuable addition would be the different caloric and nutrient requirements for growing children, pregnant women, athletes and the elderly.

The changes made on the USDA’s new ChooseMyPlate food guide are simple to follow, but may be too vague to make the strides needed for Americans to avoid obesity, heart disease and diabetes.  The new guidelines are helpful if the consumer seeks out more information in the Selected Messages. As with most things in life, rewards correspond to the amount of effort we put into things, and our health is no different.

About Lori Swanson, CHC

Lori Swanson is a busy mom and community volunteer who loves feeding her family good food to support their best health and wellness. Ms. Swanson studied Nutrition and Dietetics at California State University at Los Angeles and has rounded out her knowledge as a Certified Health Counselor at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. She currently serves as President-Elect for National Charity League of Ventura County, a national program where mothers and daughters serve their local communities together. Lori’s professional goal is to help her clients achieve their unique health goals around nutrition and wellness. For more information, please visit her website at Health Coach and her blog at Be Well Bungalow.

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