Oldways director offers mixed review of MyPlate

by Eric Schroeder
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BOSTON — While MyPlate is “an important step forward,” the round circle with four words “doesn’t tell the whole story,” said Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies at Oldways, the parent organization for The Whole Grains Council and The Mediterranean Foods Alliance.

“Overall, MyPlate is an important step forward because it helps people focus on what they are actually putting on their plate,” Ms. Harriman said. “Anyone looking at the new food plate will recognize that a steakhouse meal with a 16-oz T-bone, a little white rice and a half-dozen green beans does not match the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines.

“But a round circle with four words doesn’t tell the whole story. We applaud (the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion) plan to develop a ‘plate library’ that goes beyond words. We’d also recommend adding just a few more words to the basic plate to help convey the key ideas of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines.”

To that end, Ms. Harriman proposed a similar looking plate to MyPlate, but with the words “mostly whole” underneath fruits and grains, “all colors” underneath vegetables, and “plant-based too” underneath protein.
“If the words-only MyPlate will appear on classroom walls, packaging, web sites, etc., it will be useful with just a few more words — an easy next step,” she said.

Oldways, which developed the first Mediterranean Diet Pyramid in 1993 and subsequently introduced Latino, Asian and Vegetarian pyramids, will continue to use pyramids to inspire healthy eating, but also will create plates, Ms. Harriman said.

“Pyramids are still the best way to depict a healthy total diet, while the plate image narrows the larger, total-diet picture down to the meal level,” Ms. Harriman said, adding that both the pyramid and plate are important and complement each other in helping people understand what makes up a healthy diet.

“Oldways pyramids depict real foods,” Ms. Harriman said. “If you look at the Oldways Mediterranean Pyramid, for example, you think, ‘All those foods look pretty delicious. I could eat like that!’ When you look at the U.S.D.A.’s 2005 pyramid, you’re more likely to think, ‘I have no idea what those stripes mean.’

“MyPyramid simply got too symbolic, too abstract. Real people eat real foods, so any graphic designed to inspire people to eat better needs to show real foods.”

Ms. Harriman said the next step will be to create a “plate library” that showcases different plates with real food. Oldways plans to be at the forefront in contributing to this effort.

“We’ve already created our first two plates, to inspire healthy Mediterranean-style eating, and we contributed them to the C.N.P.P.,” she said. “We’ll be following up soon with plates representing other cultures, to tie in with our work with different traditional diets around the world. We’ll also be creating plates to pair with our new African Heritage Pyramid, which we’re introducing late this fall. And whole grains — the new norm — will be featured prominently in most of our plates, to support the work of Oldways’ Whole Grains Council.”

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