June 2, 2011 -- A colorful four-part plate, with a side dish of dairy, has replaced the 19-year-old food pyramid as the icon of the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines.
The new icon, called "My Plate," is split into four sections -- red for fruits, green for vegetables, orange for grains, and purple for protein -- with a separate blue section for dairy on the side.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled the icon at a news conference today. He said the food pyramid was "simply too complex to serve as a quick and easy guide for American families."
At the news conference, first lady Michelle Obama praised My Plate as "a wonderful, kid-friendly tool" that's practical for busy families.
"What's more simple than a plate?" she asked. "I'm confident that families will find this useful. They can start using this today."
The Obamas are already doing so. "Trust me: We are implementing this in our household," Obama said.
The icon represents more than the currently recommended diet. It's part of a drastic change. The old plan was to provide information. The new plan is to actively change American eating behavior, using all the tools of modern persuasion.
"The centerpiece of the program is this next-generation food icon," Robert C. Post, PhD, deputy director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) center for nutrition policy and promotion, tells WebMD. "The icon is the visual cue to get to online resources, to online media, and to unified nutrition messages from public- and private-sector efforts."
Expect a barrage of messages and reminders from the food industry, nutrition gurus, chefs, schools, nonprofit agencies, and every government agency with anything at all to say about nutrition or health. Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and blogs will trumpet the healthy diet program.
Eating is only half the picture. Michelle Obama's Let's Move program will take the lead in motivating Americans to get more exercise.
(Get a printable image of the new My Plate with options for your meals.)
It's an icon that works, says WebMD nutrition director Kathleen Zelman, RD.
"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.