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The New Nutrition Circle

Goodbye pyramid, hello plate.

In June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the latest tool for dietary planning. Gone is the well-known Food Pyramid. The new focus is a plate. Choose My Plate (www.ChooseMyPlate.gov) is a fabulous new way for consumers to plan healthy meals. The concept is not new to dietitians, who have been using "the plate rule" to advise patients about portion control for many years.

Fruits and Vegetables Rule

The plate rule advises patients to fill half the plate at each meal with fruits and/or vegetables (minimizing the sauces and other add-ons), a quarter of the plate with protein (about the size of a deck of cards) and a quarter of the plate with carbohydrates (about the size of a fist). I also advise patients about the need for three servings of dairy per day.

The homepage for Choose My Plate also makes the following additional points:

  • Balancing calories: Enjoy your food, but eat less; avoid oversized portions.
  • Foods to increase: Make half your plate fruits and vegetables; make at least half your grains whole grains; switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
  • Foods to reduce: Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals, and choose the foods with the lower numbers; drink water instead of sugary drinks.

A PDF file is posted at the bottom of the plate on the homepage of ChooseMyPlate.org, providing the above information in an easily printable form for patients. Clicking on each area of the plate opens information about each food group: grains, fruits, vegetables, protein and dairy. This information explains portion sizes, best types to choose, and provides photos of healthy serving sizes using an actual plate. Patients can create a daily food plan (an icon on the bottom of the homepage under Interactive Tools) to determine how much food they need each day based on their age, height, weight and activity level. Users can learn exactly how much of each food should be eaten. For example, users can learn what constitutes an ounce equivalent of grains.

Special Populations and Needs

The Choose My Plate homepage also includes information on vegetarian diets, dining out and planning menus. The section on how to increase physical activity is in small print at the bottom of the homepage, making this information seem almost an aside. However, physical activity is a primary component of good health.

Choose My Plate has partnered with Let's Move!, Michelle Obama's campaign to reduce obesity and increase physical activity in children. Other links on the homepage provide access to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, nutrition labeling and food safety information.

What's Missing?

An important item missing from Choose My Plate is a statement encouraging greater water intake. Be sure to advise your patients to drink adequate water each day, and to avoid sugary drinks.

Choose My Plate is a simple and easy way to educate patients about the healthiest ways to eat. What do you think about this new tool?

Robyn Kievit is a family nurse practitioner, a registered dietitian and a certified specialist in sports dietetics. She operates a private nutrition practice in Boston and is on staff at Emerson College. E-mail your nutrition and weight loss questions to robyn@robynkievit.com or visit her website at www.robynkievit.com. On Facebook and Twitter, search for nutritionmentor.


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