WASHINGTON — The “grain chain,” which includes such leading grain-based foods groups as the American Bakers Association, the Grain Foods Foundation, the National Association of Wheat Growers and the North American Millers’ Association, issued its unanimous support for the new MyPlate food icon introduced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The group said the new graphic “strongly illustrates the importance of grains in a healthy lifestyle.”
“We commend the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.), Health and Human Services (H.H.S.), and First Lady Michelle Obama for their work to develop the new healthy eating icon released today,” the group said. “The icon will be a critical tool in educating children, parents, and individuals in healthy and sensible eating. With grains appropriately occupying a large portion on the dinner plate graphic, the agencies are making a strong statement regarding the importance of grains as the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. The average American should eat six servings of grain foods daily, at least half of those whole grains and the rest enriched grains, according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”
The grain group said consumers have expressed a desire for simple, clear directives to follow regarding a healthy lifestyle, and the new icon should be able to provide that, given its “clear illustration of the portions and food groups comprising a healthy meal.”
Like they were on MyPyramid, grains are highlighted in orange on MyPlate. The grains symbol is featured on the upper right-hand portion of the plate.
Robb MacKie, president and chief executive officer of the American Bakers Association, said it is appropriate that grains occupy a large portion on the plate, calling it “a reaffirmation of grains as the foundation of a healthy lifestyle.”
“It is fitting that on the 70th anniversary of the enrichment of flour, the new icon recognizes the importance of enriched grains,” Mr. MacKie said. “Enriched grains are responsible for eradicating pellagra and beriberi from the U.S. population. The C.D.C. recently recognized folic acid fortification as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 21st century for helping dramatically reduce neural tube defects in babies.
“A.B.A. looks forward to working with U.S.D.A. and H.H.S. to educate consumers about the new icon and how to use it to make healthy eating choices. The icon and supporting science will be integrated into our ongoing educational efforts promoting the benefits of enriched and whole grain foods as the foundation of a healthy lifestyle.”
In a press conference hosted by the “grain chain” following the unveiling of MyPlate, three nutrition experts weighed in on what the new icon means for the grain-based foods industry.
“It reinforces what we’ve been trying to tell people to eat — a more plant-based diet,” said Julie Miller Jones, Ph.D., and an adviser to the G.F.F. “Plants on the plate take about three-fourths of the plate, and it emphasizes the role of grains and enriched grains and whole grains as staples, a mainstay on the plate. In fact, the graphic allows you a template to rate your plate, so that as you take a visual you can see that fruits, vegetables and grains dominate that plate and people respond well to a visual.”
She added, “Eating according to MyPlate is a good guide to getting us to better nutrition.”
“As a registered dietitian who works with the Hispanic population I am particularly thrilled to see this new plate, where it supports a variety of foods, especially whole and enriched grains,” said Sylvia Melendez-Klinger, M.S., R.D. and adviser to the G.F.F.
Keith Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and an adviser to the USA Rice Federation, said he likes the fact that the icon is a plate.
“People don’t eat off of a pyramid, they eat off of a plate and this is an opportunity for people to really be able to individualize their diet,” Dr. Ayoob said.
He said he was pleased to see half the plate was fruits and vegetables, but he noted it will be difficult to achieve such lofty recommendations without the aid of grains.
“I think if you want to get fruits and vegetables into people you have to put them with a grain,” he said. “I think grains are probably the best friends that fruits and vegetables have for getting into people because they are a perfect vehicle food for getting people to eat more fruits and vegetables.”
In a question-and-answer session, the experts were asked where the dessert “plate” is.
“I believe it was Secretary Vilsack that said, ‘Folks do not seem to be having any trouble finding the dessert plate,’” Mr. MacKie said. “So, this is really designed more as everyday eating patterns — and not that desserts aren’t an important part of life enrichment, but the focus was on the core meal.”
Dr. Ayoob added, “It’s a legitimate question. Is there a place for dessert? I always tell my patients there is, but first get your basics. And then, if you have calories left over, fair game. I also tell them in terms of portion sizes, when it comes to dessert and high calorie foods, portion size is everything.”
Responding to whether the plate is supposed to be every meal, Dr. Ayoob said “absolutely not.”
“This is supposed to represent your diet, not necessarily every single meal,” he said. “That is what I almost call overachieving. People do have lives and things do change. But over a course of a week that is how your diet should look.”
Dr. Jones added foods are to be enjoyed, but she noted MyPlate is about foods we eat regularly.
The size of the plate depicted in the graphic also was a topic of discussion, and the nutrition experts were asked if it was supposed to represent a dinner plate or a salad plate.
“I like to think that plate is more like a salad plate — it doesn’t look very big,” Ms. Melendez-Klinger said. “I like to think it’s between a salad plate and a dinner plate, but my counsel is always to use one that is more of a salad size plate, which is what I use personally every single day.”
Dr. Jones said the menus suggested are 2,000-calorie menus, so that would probably be an 8-inch plate, but for teenage boys the plate may be larger.
“Calories do count, and we need to keep track of what those are so that we adjust the plate size to the eater and the eater’s needs,” she said.
Asked whether the image would be more useful with pictures on the plate, Dr. Jones said for some people it may be, but what makes MyPlate helpful “is if people are motivated enough to go to the web site, where they actually talk about how to make half your grains whole, and what foods constitute grain servings that you would like to put on the plate.”
Dr. Ayoob added, “Once you start putting an example food, people don’t think about anything else, and the emphasis really needs to be on variety — a variety of grains, a variety of protein foods and a variety of fruits and vegetables. And once you get a couple of icons of a fruit, vegetable or grain, people don’t think of anything else. We really need to encourage people to eat as wide a variety as possible in each category.”
Ms. Melendez-Klinger said she likes the fact you can click on MyPlate and go to each category and find examples that fit into each food group.
“The best advice is to get on-line and follow the links,” Dr. Ayoob said.