Eat everything on your plate! (Not on your pyramid)

When it comes to nosh, the humble plate is mightier than the pyramid.

The Food Guide Pyramid became the most decisive tool in informing us humans what we should be eating on a daily basis. It first cropped up in Scandinavia in the late 1970s before being adopted as a general guideline by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) in 1992 with many countries following suit in holding it up as an exemplar of nutritional standards. Many a child from primary school upwards became acquainted with the block diagram that was divided into six different food groups. (My kids even came home clutching one to colour in on paper having been given them when ‘Healthy Harold' paid the infant classes a visit.) But now it seems that the mighty pyramid is to be overtaken by the humble dinner plate.

The new ‘My Plate' icon is being advocated by Michelle Obama, using her powers of persuasiveness to make us rethink what we put on our plates (literally) not only as first lady but as a mother. Speaking at the news conference and launch of ‘My Plate' she said: “When it comes to eating what's more useful than a plate? The new design is a quick simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods we're eating."

The lady has a point. It seems the pyramid was useful in the information stakes but - after nearly two decades as a beacon of global dietary guidelines - was simply not cutting the mustard in terms of being practiced by the masses and having any real desired effect in being translated to people's eating habits. There is something familiar and reassuring about the symbol of the plate and it offers a better concept of dividing food groups into manageable portions."

The message of the new plate icon is essentially along the same lines as the pyramid in promoting widespread nutrition guidance but with a few modifications now in place. It is predicted that consumers will find ‘My Plate' more straightforward and so actively and regularly implement its visual advice.

The ‘My Plate' is divided into colour-coded quadrants:
RED - fruits
GREEN - vegetables
ORANGE - grains
PURPLE - proteins (including meat and beans)
Then there is a separate BLUE circle (for a portion of dairy) located on the upper right-hand side of the plate to allow for something like a glass of milk yoghurt pot or helping of cheese.

The notable differences to the pyramid are the obvious lack of allowance for any portion of sweet treats and other ‘discretionary calories.' This is perhaps not surprising given that obesity and all its accompanying health disorders are now endemic throughout much of the developed world. And as for grains which used to make up the entire ‘bottom rung' of the previous Food Guide Pyramid these need not be consumed in such great quantities - although still more than proteins - and should be as whole as possible rather than being derived from refined food products such as white bread.

Also we are now being strongly advised to eat a diet that is half compromised of a variety of fruits and vegetables with a few more veggies than fruit being the idea. None of this is too arduous; we have come a long way from a staple choice of boiled potatoes sprouts and an apple a day. Personally, I'm thinking of a plate of green leaf salad tossed in with a good few pieces of roasted pumpkin baked pear and walnuts with a sharp-tasting blue-vein cheese crumbled on top. And if I can just caramelize those walnuts…

Written by Cassandra Duell.

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