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EXPERT AVAILABLE: MyPlate: New Food Guide is Helpful Tool, but won’t Change America’s Eating Habits, MU Nutrition Expert Says

June 03, 2011

Story Contact(s):
Emily Martin, martinem@missouri.edu, (573) 882-3346

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – First lady Michelle Obama and agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the food guide pyramid will be replaced with a plate icon. The new guide, MyPlate, will serve as a reminder to Americans to make healthier food choices. Ellen Schuster, a University of Missouri nutrition expert, says the updated look is more practical, but although it may be a useful tool, it won’t change bad eating habits.

The USDA unveiled MyPlate, a new dietary guidelines icon that replaces the food guide pyramid, designed in 1992.

“I like the idea of a plate,” Schuster said. “It seems much more practical from a consumer standpoint as compared to a pyramid. In addition, I think many ages – children and adults – will find the plate useful.”

The MyPlate provides a visual reference of how a balanced meal looks when it includes foods from each of the food groups. However, when eating mixed dishes, people will still need to estimate how much they are eating from each food group and how those amounts compare to the MyPlate recommended portions, Schuster said.

“Many foods we eat nowadays — especially from fast food restaurants and other dining establishments — are combination foods like tacos, stir-fry, chili, etc,” Schuster said. “It is hard to estimate how much food from each of the food groups is in those dishes.”

The circular plate includes four colored sections – for vegetables, fruits, grains and protein. A smaller circle next to the larger plate represents dairy options, such as a serving of yogurt or low-fat milk.

“In the end, the food icon is a tool but in and of itself, won’t change America’s eating habits,” Schuster said.  Many other factors are necessary for creating healthy change including providing nutrition skills and knowledge, access to healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, and other factors at the personal and environmental levels.”

Schuster is a state specialist for MU Extension and the College of Human Environmental Sciences. She provides nutrition education and is a curriculum and staff training coordinator for the Family Nutrition Education Program. Nutrition research is conducted through MU Extension and the MU Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology – a joint department in the College of Human Environmental Sciences, the School of Medicine and the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at MU.

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