WASHINGTON — The U. S. Department of Agriculture last week unveiled a new graphic that will replace its Food Pyramid. With a simpler, plate-shaped design, the new graphic is intended to offer a quick visual representation of a healthy diet. Half of the plate is filled with fruits and vegetables, and the other half is parceled out to grains and proteins.
Published by USDA in 1992, the original food guide pyramid became an iconic educational tool. Breads, cereals, rice and pasta formed the base of the original pyramid. The fruit and vegetable categories were stacked on top. Dairy and proteins appeared on a third tier, and fats, oils and sweets formed the pinnacle.
But, many critics complained that the design was confusing. Notably, the foods that people were encouraged to eat sparingly were at the top of the pyramid.
Partially in response to critics, the pyramid was overhauled in 2005 with the launch of MyPyramid.gov, a website featuring healthy eating tips, educational materials and interactive tools to help visitors create customized diet plans.
The new pyramid design used different-colored wedges to represent each food group. In an effort to address the visual shortcomings of the earlier pyramid, wedges representing the grain, fruit and vegetable groups were substantially larger than the wedges for the meat and protein group, for example. But, many nutritionists argued that the new design was even more confusing, and that the new government website would not be much use to consumers that did not have regular access to the Internet, or in classrooms or clinics where web access was not readily available.
“It's going to be hard not to do better than the current pyramid, which basically conveys no useful information,” Walter C. Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, told the New York Times, which broke the news of the launch prior to the official announcement.
In a separate interview with WebMD.com, Robert C. Post, deputy director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, explained, “what we learned is it is not just giving information, it is a matter of making people understand there are options and practical ways to apply this to their lifestyle. There will be a ‘how-to’ that will resonate with individuals. That is the behavioral part that is needed.”