As you probably know by now, this week the USDA unveiled their newest dietary guidelines in the form of a simplified graphic. Meant as a replacement for the food pyramid, “My Plate” breaks down the daily recommendations into the basic idea that at every meal, the food on your plate should consist of items from each of the categories pictured in the illustrated amount. That means that the USDA thinks that about half your plate should be produce (with a greater emphasis on vegetables than fruit), a quarter should be protein and a quarter should be grains.
Without a doubt, I think this new icon is a vast improvement over the food pyramid. Indeed, it is much simpler to understand and gets it right with the emphasis on vegetables. I’m also psyched to see the “protein” section labeled as such. As we all know, meat isn’t the only good source of protein, or even the best, so it’s nice to see beans, nuts, seeds and other rich sources get some well-earned recognition.
However, there is something else about the “My Plate” graphic that I have less enthusiasm for. As you can probably guess from my awesome Photoshop skills, I’m talkin’ bout the side order of dairy. The super-prominent inclusion of dairy as its own special sub-category on “My Plate” is an example of two things:
- The fact that no one is better at their job than the dairy lobby
- The first priority of the USDA is not your health
Seriously, I don’t even want to think about what dairy lobbyists must do to achieve the kind of career success they enjoy (and have enjoyed consistently over the past several decades), but I’d be willing to bet that if a movie was made about their tactics, it would be rated X.
Milk (and flavored milk, at that!) in schools and the whole “3-A-Day™” for weight loss nonsense aside, the “My Plate” thing is the most solid evidence to date of how powerful the dairy industry is and that the USDA can be bought. Registered Dietitian, Andy Bellatti, summarizes it best:
My first order of business — that proverbial dairy group on the side of My Plate;
sciencelobbying at its finest. Since the plate differentiates between fruits, vegetables, proteins, and grains, it begs the question — why aren’t dairy products included with the “protein” group? After all, a serving of dairy has as much protein as a serving of meat, chicken, fish, beans, nuts, and seeds.
The fact that dairy has calcium is irrelevant; some green vegetables offer just as much calcium as milk — and in a more absorbable form — yet they are contained within the vegetable group. If the USDA were truly concerned with calcium intake (rather than returning the financial favor to the dairy industry), it would make a “calcium-rich food” group and include a wide variety of calcium-rich foods with equal prominence (milk, cheese, and yogurt along with kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and fortified dairy alternatives).