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July 5, 2011 > Making Healthy Food Choices Just Got Easier

Making Healthy Food Choices Just Got Easier

'MyPlate' Diagram Replaces 'MyPyramid'

In an effort to make it easier for people to make food choices that promote better health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently introduced a new, simpler icon called "MyPlate," to replace the "MyPyramid" image as the government's primary food group symbol.

"The new MyPlate concept is based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans established by the USDA," says Washington Hospital's Clinical Nutrition Manager Kimberlee Alvari, R.D. "It also reflects a recommendation from the Child Obesity Task Force, chaired by First Lady Michelle Obama, that dietary information for consumers needs to be simpler and easier to understand."

Alvari notes that the MyPyramid diagram was sometimes confusing for consumers with its more complicated descriptions of the recommended number of servings for various food groups.

"The MyPlate icon uses a simple place-setting diagram with a plate and cup to illustrate the quantities of fruit, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy products that should make up a healthy meal," she explains. "This makes it easy for mom and dad to view their child's plate, rather than count the number of servings. You don't have to be a registered dietitian to understand it."

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize three basic messages:

Balance Calories
* Enjoy your food, but eat less.
* Avoid oversized portions.

Foods To Increase
* Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
* Switch to fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
* Make at least half of your grains whole grains.

Foods To Reduce
* Compare the amount of sodium (salt) in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals, and choose foods with lower sodium content.
* Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

"Portion size is an important issue," Alvari emphasizes. "You need to consider the person's body size and level of activity when determining the proper portion size. Plus, you should remember that the MyPlate diagram is based on a 9-inch plate, not an extra-large dinner plate."

Alvari recommends seasonal and local produce as the best option for choosing fruits and vegetables. "Especially this time of year, there are lots of great-tasting and affordable fruits and vegetables available at local farmer's markets," she says. "Many grocery stores also now identify produce that is locally grown. When fresh produce is not available, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are options, but you should watch out for added salt or sugar."

To reduce the amount of salt and sugar in your diet - especially in processed foods - Alvari suggests reading product labels carefully. "Look for products that are labeled as 'reduced sodium',' and there should be only 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving," she says. "You also should look for labels that say 'no sugar added,' and reduce your intake of sugared drinks - including fruit juice, which has natural sugars in it."

In addition to helping combat the rising incidence of obesity in the U.S., improved eating habits based on the MyPlate concept can help prevent a number of adverse health conditions.

"I have taught classes on how to eat healthy for cancer prevention for years, based on a similar plate concept developed by the American Institute for Cancer Research," Alvari says. "This type of eating can help prevent a number of other chronic conditions such as diabetes. People on specialized therapeutic diets for chronic conditions - such as kidney disease - should always consult their physician or dietitian before making any changes in their diet."

Information to help consumers make healthy eating choices can be found at The website provides practical information on building healthier diets, with resources and tools for evaluating your diet, nutrition education and other nutrition information. Information about the older MyPyramid guidelines will remain available for health professionals, nutrition educators and other interested individuals in a special section of the new website.

The USDA also is encouraging people to get actively involved in the new MyPlate initiative by taking photos of their plates and sharing the photos on Twitter with the hash-tag #MyPlate.

"Approximately half of the U.S. population is under age 30, and Twitter is a new way to reach younger audiences with this important message," Alvari says. "Hopefully, this new, simpler way to learn about good nutrition will lead to a healthier lifestyle for people of all ages."

Washington Hospital Offers Nutrition Counseling

Washington Hospital's Outpatient Nutrition Counseling program is available by appointment to provide nutrition counseling for individuals with specific medical needs as well as those who wish to maintain optimal health. Call (510) 745-6542 or visit for more information.

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