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A Better Plate

My Plate from the United States Department of Agriculture.
My Plate from the United States Department of Agriculture.

In 1943 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced the "Basic 7" food group guide. Food was being rationed because of World War II and there were concerns that people may not be eating enough.

Some suggestions were good. It had two categories dedicated to vegetables, one to fruits and another to grains. But some of the suggestions were heavily influenced by industry lobbying groups and foods that were available. Children were encouraged to get three to four servings of milk (or ice cream) a day and one of the seven categories was devoted entirely to "butter and fortified margarine."

The Basic 7

The Basic 7

In 1956 the USDA trimmed the "Basic 7" down to just four. Gone was the special emphasis on butter (drat!). The three categories of fruit and vegetables were grouped into one. For the next 36 years, schoolchildren were taught the importance of Milk, Meat, Vegetables/Fruit and Grains.

The end result was simpler, but still had lots of problems. Vegetables and fruit were each presented as only half as important as meat. The number and size of servings per day wasn't addressed. Milk still had it's own category, even though it's not a requirement of a healthy diet. Plus there was no consideration for people who suffered from eating-related problems such as lactose intolerance or gluten sensitivities.

The Basic 4

The Basic 4

A detailed food guide pyramid was released in 1992 to address some of those issues. Serving sizes were presented for the first time. Food was grouped together to show things you should eat sparingly at the top, and things that should make up the bulk of your diet at the bottom. But it still offered a flawed vision.

Now Americans were advised to eat between 6 and 11 servings of bread, rice, cereal or pasta every day. We were told fat was the enemy and carbohydrates were the way to go. Vegetables were presented as only half as important as grains. Plus milk still had its own category. Now the problem the USDA was seeing wasn't malnutrition, but expanding waistlines and an increase in national obesity.

The First Failed Food Pyramid

The First Failed Food Pyramid

Of course it didn't work, so the classic pyramid was replaced in 2005 with the staircase pyramid. A brand new website was built where you could learn about each sliver on the pyramid and compare different versions based on your individual diet preferences. Rather than helping people out, it just made things more confusing.

In 2008 the federal government also started heavily promoting exercise along with MyPyramid. Now everyone was told that we should all do 2.5 hours of cardio a week and at least 2 hours of weight training. With millions of dollars in advertising, you would think there would have been an increase in gym memberships and a decrease in obesity. But that's not what happened. Gym membership levels stayed the same and Americans continued to get fatter.

The Second Failed Food Pyramid

The Second Failed Food Pyramid

We can watch TV four hours a day, play on the computer a couple more hours, but there's no way we're going to get in thirty minutes of exercise. And all those food pyramids were way too confusing. So the USDA overhauled everything again.

Now we have MY PLATE. Instead of charts and graphs of all the nutritional things we're supposed to eat and avoid, we have a dinner plate. It's divided up into sections to show you how much of each type of food you're supposed to put on it.

My Plate from the United States Department of Agriculture

You can see the dairy lobby hasn't been ignored, every meal is supposed to be accompanied with a nice serving of dairy products. (Milk anyone?) Once again ignoring the fact that dairy isn't essential and as much as 70% of some populations may be lactose intolerant.

There's also a section for protein, so I guess the USDA forgot that they already recommended protein by making a special section called dairy. Maybe they don't know that vegetables have protein in them as well.

Let's make MY PLATE even easier.

A Better Plate for Vegetarians

For Vegetarians: Replace the Dairy circle with water. Combine all the categories on the plate into a single group that says PLANTS (Choose at least three.)

A Better Plate for Meat Eaters

For Meat Eaters: Replace the Dairy circle with water. Show 3/4 of the plate with the group that says PLANTS (Choose at least three.) The remaining quarter can show the word ANIMALS.

Underneath both revised MY PLATE graphics include the statement: "Avoid foods that are breaded, fried or covered in fattening sauces. If you eat sweets, treats or desserts, make sure they are no larger than the size showing for water."

Simple advice, simply applied. Maybe it's worth a try.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.