Kudos to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) for putting out new dietary recommendations that, seemingly, aren’t likely to sit well with Big Food. “Enjoy your food, but eat less”, “Drink water instead of sugary drinks”, “Key Consumer Message: Make half your plate fruits and vegetables”, proclaims the new USDA dietary website. ChooseMyPlate.gov was rolled out this week as the controversial Food Pyramid was replaced by the Food Plate.
“The plate does a better job of reflecting current thinking about healthy diets than previous guides. Its four sectors are unequal. Vegetables get the most space, and dairy – a discretionary choice – is off to the side”, wrote nutrition and public policy expert Marion Nestle in the San Francisco Chronicle. “You are to pile half your plate with fruit and vegetables, and a quarter with grains (half of them whole grains). All these come from plants.”
“Meat” is nowhere to be seen. Click on the “Protein” section of the plate, however, and you learn that this foods group includes “all foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds”. Which leaves the door open to many options, including a 100-percent plant-based diet.
Now, the main question that remains is whether MyPlate, or any other governement dietary recommendations, can truly have an impact on people’s eating choices. Such factors as food access, prices, cooking skills and entrenched habits are unlikely to be impacted by the USDA’s well-meaning advice. Big Food’s marketing messages for industrial, unhealthy foods are also unlikely to abate, although one can expect to see them incorporate some tailored version of the new USDA policy to fit their corporate strategy.
The USDA has promised more detailed guidance, and interactive tools to follow soon. We’ll see whether these include, for instance, helping people customize their best possible selection in each foods group. And how about adding the following recommendations, for a simplistic yet helpful message:
“Choose fresh or frozen over canned fruits and vegetables” (lower sodium)
“Choose unprocessed over processed, packaged foods” (higher nutritional virtues)
“Read ingredient labels on packaged foods carefully in order to make an informed buying decision.” (keep your health in mind)
“Choose quality over quantity! Favor pasture-raised meat and eggs–and eat less of it!” (no antibiotics/hormones; more Omega-3)
“Choose quality over quantity! Buy organic produce whenever possible and reduce waste to zero by following these simple, yummies recipes” (beware of toxic chemicals in your food)
This being said, one can speculate with some optimism that the new food map will be the foundation upon which nutritional and dietary guideline for the federal school lunch program will be built–in the wake of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act signed into law last December. That would definitely be a step in the right direction, away from the chicken-nuggets-flavored-milk-French-fries staple diet of old.
First Lady Michelle Obama, America’s queen of healthy food and lifestyle, should see to that. She’s been a driving force behind both the new legislation and the new dietary icon.
All parents have to do now is “take a look at our kids’ plates. As long as they’re half full of fruits and vegetables, and paired with lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, we’re golden. That’s how easy it is,” she said as she introduced the new food map last week.
And of course, lest we forget, let’s ban sodas from the fridge and offer water as the cool drink of choice–PepsiCo. should love that one.