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The New Food Plate continued...

"We now have an easy-to-understand layout of what constitutes a healthy meal," Zelman says. "Whether you are grocery shopping, packing lunches, or assembling a meal on a plate, the new food plate icon will serve as a constant reminder of the essential ingredients for a nutritious meal -- five easy pieces."

The icon makes it clear that fruits and veggies should make up half of your meal, while protein is the smallest part of the plate. The grain portion is a bit larger and still offers the advice to "make half your grains whole," which some nutritionists say leaves too much room for less healthy refined grains such as white rice and white bread.

Other top-line advice accompanying the icon is less controversial:

  • Balance calories by enjoying food but eating less, and by avoiding oversize portions.
  • Eat more good stuff: Make half the plate fruit and vegetables, switch to nonfat or low-fat milk.
  • Eat less bad stuff: Look for lower-sodium soups, breads, and frozen meals; drink water instead of sugary drinks.

In the fall, the USDA will launch a suite of interactive web-based tools including:

  • Daily, personalized food plans.
  • Daily food plans for kids and preschoolers.
  • Daily food plans for new mothers and pregnant women.
  • MyFoodapedia: information on food groups, calories, and food comparisons.
  • Food Tracker: feedback on your food intake and physical activity
  • Food Planner: a tool to plan meals that will help you reach personal goals.

(Test your nutrition knowledge.)

Food Pyramid History

The 2010-2011 dietary guidelines are neither the first nor the last Americans will see. Federal law requires the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services to update the guidelines every five years.

But even before this mandate, the USDA has been issuing dietary advice. The first set of guidelines came in 1894, when Wilbur Olin Atwater, PhD, wrote a USDA Farmers' Bulletin suggesting that Americans should eat fewer fats and sugars, exercise more, and watch their calories.

Various USDA food guides through the 1950s stressed important foods that should serve as the foundation of a healthy diet. These guides took various approaches to make sure Americans ate enough of different kinds of foods to avoid malnutrition. By the 1970s, however, too little food was no longer a problem: Too much food was.

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