USDA’s MyPlate Examined

Have you ever wondered where our nutrition recommendations come from? If you have you are not alone. Before a nutrition message ever reaches you it starts with two entities: the government and the food industry. This is especially true in regards to the new United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) MyPlate. I am sure you all have seen this image floating around.

In this article I want to discuss the pros and cons to the updated dietary guidelines and present you with some new ideas to consider. The United States Department of Agriculture’s first published dietary guidelines were in 1894. Since then they have produced several more guides including the Food Guide Pryamid and MyPyramid. MyPlate is the current nutrition guide published by the USDA. This diagram is broken down as a place setting with a glass and plate divided into five food groups. The glass represents a low fat dairy option, and the plate is divided into these recommendations:

  • 30% grains
  • 30% vegetables
  • 20% fruits
  • 20% protein

MyPlate goes further to present the guidelines in more detail. Here are the tips they include:

  • Eat less.
  • Enjoy your food.
  • Switch to skim or 1% milk.
  • Vary your protein food choices.
  • Look out for salt (sodium) in foods.
  • Make at least half your grains whole.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
  • Eat fewer foods that are high in solid fats.
  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • When eating out, choose lower calorie menu options.
  • Choose foods and drinks with little or no added sugars.
  • Cook more often at home, where you can control what’s in your food.

Appreciating the Positives

  • Encouraging more fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with nutrients. They are high in antioxidants which defend against inflammation, which has been shown to be the root cause of most modern diseases.
  • Encouraging limiting or avoiding added sugars. Sugar is toxic to our bodies. Most of us understand this, but do not want to accept it as true. Sugar is highly addictive leaving us wanting more. It goes way beyond simply being empty calories. Dr. Mercola explains just how toxic sugar is in this article.
  • Encouraging water over sugary drinks. The same “sugar is toxic” message applies here. Not to mention we could not live without pure clean water.
  • Encouraging cooking more at home. Cooking at home does allow complete control over all ingredients. It also serves to enhance family time and is often less expensive.
  • Encouraging enjoying your food. Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. We all have to eat, so why would we not want to enjoy it.

Highlighting the Negatives

  • Funding: Whenever a national public health campaign is presented to the public we first need to look at who is behind it. I personally used to consider everything in the nutrition realm to be true. I never questioned it. See, as I mentioned above MyPlate’s recommendations were developed by the food industry and the government. Dietary advice is directly related to food industry sales. The main stakeholders behind this campaign include the corn industry and the dairy industry. That is why you see grains and dairy promoted as the key factors in a “healthy” diet. Millions of dollars are spent on promoting industrialized food and big agriculture. Here is a great article that helps reveal Agricultural Subsidies in further detail. It is important to understand that most of the messages you receive are for monetary reasons and not out of a real concern for your health. A really good resource worth reading is the book Food Politics by Marion Nestle.
  • Healthy Grains: Grains are promoted as healthy. This article alone might change your mind. Another great resource is the book Wheat Belly by William Davis. The bottom line is that grains are low in nutrients compared to other real foods like vegetables. To top it off gluten containing grains especially may lead to a variety of health problems.
  • Dairy: Encouraging low fat dairy is something we all need to reconsider. Dairy milk is a highly processed food, which is a fact they often leave out when recommending limiting processed foods. Dr. Weil discusses why he no longer chooses or recommends low fat dairy products. It would also be wise to consider removing dairy completely. This article explains why.
  • Fear of Fat: The plate fails to show any information regarding fats other than recommending “low fat” dairy. There is a small section on “oils” which recommends avoiding saturated fat like the plague. The “Fear the Fat” message has been debunked. Find out how to eat fat and lose weight and why saturate fat does not cause heart disease. The bottom line is that low-fat foods are highly processed products that have been replaced with sugar, corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners. There is no reason to fear fat.
  • Eat Less: As I mentioned above in the positives we are encouraged to enjoy our food. However the message is to enjoy your food but eat less of it. Weight management is so much more than just plain “calories in, calories out.” Eating less is not the answer. Seeking nutrient dense foods is the answer. When we nourish our bodies with nutrient dense foods we are being nourished on a cellular level. The message needs to change from “calories” which could mean from any source to “quality” which focuses on choosing nutrient dense foods.
  • Missing Information: The overall message of the plate is so simplified and it does not take into consideration how to eat for proper blood sugar control, digestion, and hormone function. It also does not accommodate special dietary restrictions.
  • Food Quality: In their message to reduce sodium and sugar, they fail to mention the importance of staying away from high-fructose corn syrup, trans fat, artificial flavorings, and GMOs. As mentioned above, the quality of the foods have to change. The message needs to recommend staying away from anything packaged, processed, or from a drive-thru. When buying a food with a label, the shorter the ingredient list the better. Remember, that:

“Consuming real, whole foods will always be the answer.”

In summary, when it comes to national dietary recommendations there are still many missing pieces to the puzzle. Most of the information has left Americans feeling only more discouraged and confused. As Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food, says:

“Years of nutritional advice have left us fatter, sicker, and more poorly nourished. Which is why we find ourselves in the predicament we do: in need of a whole new way to think about eating.”

Our hope is that you will do yourselves a favor and truly consider the alternatives to this flawed message.

We would love to hear your thoughts on the new updated MyPlate. What positive message do you relate to? Have you felt challenged on any particular topic?

Sources and Sites for more information:
Rethinking Saturated Fat
Agricultural Subsidies
Is Dairy Healthy
Eat Fat and Lose Weight
Saturated Fat Does Not Cause Heart Disease




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *