Harvard's New 'Healthy Eating Plate' Provides Alternative to USDA's MyPlate


[Photographs: health.harvard.edu]

A while back, the USDA released its newest version of the food pyramid—except it wasn't a pyramid at all. The new "MyPlate" icon demonstrated what the USDA considers the appropriate balance of fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, and proteins for your diet, in a handy plate-shaped icon.

Recommendations accompanying the icon include choosing whole-grains for at least half of your grains, and lower-fat dairy products instead of whole. The new model has been both critiqued and applauded; we certainly had a lively debate over its merits back in June.

Recently, another version of the plate emerged. The Harvard School of Public Health just released its Healthy Eating Plate, which they say "offers more specific and accurate recommendations...than MyPlate." The group also notes that its plate "is not influenced by the food industry or agriculture policy" (with the implication that the USDA's recommendations are influenced by these political opinions).

So what are these accurate, scientific, unbiased opinions?

Well for one, the dairy circle is replaced by water, with a recommendation that you drink water, coffee, or tea, with little to no sugar. There is a "whole grains" category encouraging consumption of whole-grain bread and pasta, and a "healthy proteins" category promoting fish and beans, and discouraging bacon consumption (I know, Serious Eaters, I know). And the vegetables segment is bigger than the fruits segment—in fact, bigger than any other segment—and makes the definitive statement that "potatoes...don't count" as vegetables.

It seems to me that this balance of foods is certainly healthier than the MyPlate version, but it is also more prescriptive.

Just because the MyPlate verbiage doesn't require that you eat only whole grains and lean proteins doesn't mean that it doesn't offer perfectly legitimate nutritional advice (though that advice is primarily found in the fine print, on the USDA website). That being said, there is plenty of documentation of the influence that lobbyists, particularly in the dairy industry, play in the development of government nutritional recommendations.

What do you think of this new version, eaters? Which plate do you prefer?

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work is also featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.