The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled its new healthy eating symbol, "My Plate," which aims to show that nutrition can be simple.

The new "My Plate" healthy eating icon — a very simple circle divided into quadrants that contain fruits, vegetables, protein and grains with dairy on the side — replaces USDA's food pyramid, which has been around in various forms since 1992. For more details, visit the revised website at www.choosemyplate.gov.

After many years of research, USDA officials concluded the pyramid needed a makeover, and the new healthy eating icon was unveiled on June 2nd with the approval of First Lady, Michelle Obama, who was in attendance. The plate is simple and gives consumers an idea of what portion size and variety should be on their plates when they sit down at the table. But what is most impressive is that My Plate is designed just for you, which means you can add the foods and beverages you enjoy as long as you have variety and moderation.

Gone are any references to sugars, fats or oils, and what was once a category called "meat and beans" is now simply "proteins." Next to the plate is a blue circle for dairy, which could be a glass of milk or a food, such as cheese or yogurt (all low fat).

Even though the plate is divided into four sections, the servings aren't supposed to be proportional. Every person has different nutritional needs, based on age, health, activity, and other factors. The symbol, based on a new set of dietary guidelines released in January, give us a general guideline.

The dietary guidelines that provide the foundation for the symbol are released every five years. In addition to telling people to reduce salt and continue limiting saturated fats, the most recent set of guidelines asked consumers to enjoy food but balance calories by eating less and taking smaller portions. It also suggested making half of your plate fruits and vegetables, a message easily adaptable to the dinner plate.

According to Robert Post of USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, who worked on the my plate icon for 2 years, “it’s grabbing the consumer’s attention that we are after this time, not making it so complicated that perhaps it is a turnoff."

The department is planning to use social media as one way of grabbing attention, posting advice every day on Twitter, for example. The accompanying website, www.choosemyplate.gov, will be written on the chart. It will eventually feature interactive tools that help people manage their weight and track exercise.

Post, who spent two years developing the plate and the website, said the new chart is designed to be "more artistic and attractive" and to serve as a visual cue for consumers.

As a dietitian, I welcome the new icon “My Plate” and hope that consumers, especially Latinos embrace the benefits of consuming a variety of foods in moderation.  

Cheers!

Sylvia Meléndez Klinger, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer, is founder of Hispanic Food Communications, a food communications and culinary consulting company based in Hinsdale, Ill. She is Hispanic and uses her in-depth culinary and cultural expertise to introduce new strategies for wellness to an increasingly health-conscious Hispanic population. For more on her, go to hispanicfoodcommunications.com.

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