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USDA’s new approach big step forward to help consumers plan balanced meals

What does a healthy diet look like? That question will be easier to answer with the help of the new MyPlate website and consumer materials unveiled last week by the USDA in Washington, D.C.

The MyPlate website features an easy-to-remember icon—a colorful dinner plate divided into sections for fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins next to a circle representing a cup labeled dairy. The site at http://www.choosemyplate.gov/ also offers tools and resources to help consumers put the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans into action by building healthy eating patterns. MyPlate replaces the former USDA MyPyramid food guide.

The basic messages on healthy eating that are emphasized in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate are:

–Enjoy your food, but eat less.

–Avoid oversized portions.

–Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

–Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

–Make at least half your grains whole grains.

–Compare sodium (salt) in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals, and choose foods with lower numbers.

–Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

“The new MyPlate system is a giant step forward in helping consumers plan balanced meals and snacks,” says Susan Nitzke, UW-Extension specialist and professor in nutritional sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Whether you are planning a meal at home, picking items from a restaurant menu, or checking out your shopping cart, the MyPlate logo summarizes the proportions that you should strive for in a balanced diet.”

Nitzke points out that the new MyPlate system gives a quick visual summary of a healthy meal while allowing great flexibility. “Vegetarians, pregnant women, athletes, and school children can all use this new symbol to determine if their personal eating patterns are in line with expert recommendations,” she says.

Beverages play a big role in the MyPlate strategy, too. “I appreciate the fact that the glass or cup next to the plate is an important part of the icon,” adds Nitzke, who advises people to pay as much attention to the nutritional value of their beverages as their food, both with and between meals.

For more information on MyPlate or to learn more about ways to eat well, contact your local county UW-Extension office. Contact information is available at http://yourcountyextensionoffice.org