USDA Food Pyramid To Be Replaced By Plate Graphic

Step aside, pyramid. Make way for the plate. The USDA is unveiling its new and improved nutrition guidelines graphic. Its designed to help consumers better visualize what it means to eat healthier.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

First Lady Michelle Obama goes to the Department of Agriculture today to say goodbye to the old Food Pyramid, the pyramid was designed to help consumers make healthier food choices.

NPR's April Fulton tells us what's coming in its place.

APRIL FULTON: Here's a pop quiz. When you think of a pyramid, what do you think of first? A: Ancient Egypt.

(Soundbite of Middle Eastern music)

FULTON: B: A popular '70s game show.

(Soundbite of TV program; applause)

Unidentified Man: This is "The $25,000 Pyramid."

FULTON: Or C: The government's symbol for good nutrition.

(Soundbite of crickets)

FULTON: Well, at least some of you probably said C. Schools have been drilling that pyramid into children's heads for nearly two decades. It's all to help people visualize the amount and type of foods we should eat for good health.

But they stuffed a lot of information into it. It was hard to figure out: whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits and vegetables, some protein, not too many sweets, serving sizes; exercise, too.

Professor JOHN STANTON (Chairman, Department of Food Marketing, St. Joseph's University): I think the pyramid was just too complex. And can you think of a busy mother trying to put delicious, nutritious food on the table looking at a pyramid?

FULTON: That's John Stanton. He heads the Department of Food Marketing at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. He says consumers just didn't get the pyramid. There are a lot of competing food messages out there and not a lot of time.

Prof. STANTON: It doesn't have the pizzazz. The consumer spends maybe a maximum of three seconds looking at a food in a grocery store.

FULTON: So the replacement for the pyramid is simple. It's a graphic of your everyday, common round dinner plate.

Prof. STANTON: It makes sense because when people think about food, they think about their plate.

FULTON: Now, the USDA has been keeping the plate graphic under wraps until today. But Lorelei DiSogra, of the United Fresh Produce Association, is pretty excited about one part - the part that says half your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables.

Dr. LORELEI DISOGRA (Vice President, Nutrition and Health, United Fresh Produce Association): Half a plate is a very effective communication's tool. It's very compelling. It's very clear. It's very straightforward.

FULTON: And it's one of the key messages of the Dietary Guidelines.

Dr. DISOGRA: This is great news for fruits and vegetables.

FULTON: And next to that veggie-filled plate there will be a glass.

Ms. ANN MARIE KRAUTHEIM (Senior Vice President, Nutrition Affairs, National Dairy Council): The glass actually will symbolize dairy.

FULTON: That's Ann Marie Krautheim of the National Dairy Council. She thinks the glass will help consumers consume more dairy.

Ms. KRAUTHEIM: Most Americans are consuming just under two daily servings, and the recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines are to consume three servings.

FULTON: As for what's shrinking on the plate, thats meat.

Steven Raichlen, host of PBS's "Primal Grill," says that doesn't mean people are going to throw out their grills. But the new nutrition icon might encourage them to change things up a little.

Mr. STEVEN RAICHLEN (Host, "Primal Grill," PBS): Meat use more as a flavorful condiment, rather than this belly-bludgeoning hunk of protein.

FULTON: And grill some veggies on the side.

April Fulton, NPR News, Washington.

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