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June 6, 2011

New Nutrition Guide’s “Plate” Uses New Math

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 4:48 am

The USDA last week unveiled its replacement for the decades’ old food pyramid, and calls it MyPlate.

It has generally received rave reviews and positive press for more clearly showing the types of things we should be eating daily and their proportions. If you read the details, however, you would see that what looks like roughly equal portions of five food groups at a meal is not what they suggest you eat. And that was the value of the old food pyramid — it better depicted relative quantities of each of the food groups that should be consumed daily.

Digging deeper into the “plate”, you discover what the actual amount of each category of food the government suggests we consume.


Here, for example, the government suggests that most people should eat three cups of dairy per day. Depending on the particular dairy food, that could be a good amount or a crazy amount.

It turns out, however, when they tell us to eat three cups of dairy a day, they really don’t mean three cups. But that is the unfortunate term they chose.


A cup of milk is a cup’s worth, and the same goes for yogurt. But when they tell us to eat a cup of cheese, they really mean to only eat as little as an ounce and half. Except for cottage cheese. A cup of cottage cheese should be two cups.

And the ice cream industry really must have lobbied the government hard, because a cup of ice cream is really a cup and half.

Confusing, huh?


• • •


  1. I never paid attention to the food pyramid or any recommended portions because the suggested amounts never made complete sense to me and they seem inflated. Just a bunch of BS, IMO.

    Comment by Peter — June 6, 2011 @ 6:16 am
  2. Instead of saying “cup”, perhaps they should have said “serving”.

    Edgar replies: I agree! They should have said “serving” or “portion” and not cup.

    Comment by JonnieAngel — June 6, 2011 @ 7:12 am
  3. Are SURE the IRS didn’t generate this?

    Comment by Bob — June 6, 2011 @ 8:43 am
  4. “Serving” is the term used on nutrition facts labels. It doesn’t make any sense why they used the word “cup” instead.

    I thought the problem with the old food pyramid was that it placed too much emphasis on grains (often refined flour and white rice). Here, vegetables and fruits are emphasized.

    Comment by T — June 6, 2011 @ 9:06 am
  5. All I know is I’m looking forward to eating 4 1/2 cups of ice cream a day. I wonder if the USDA counts potato chips as a vegetable and donuts as a grain???

    Comment by John — June 6, 2011 @ 9:49 am
  6. I am sitting in the hospital with my son whose cancer has relapsed. I am sad and depressed. This is the first thing to make me laugh in a week, Thank You USDA!!!

    Comment by Maranda martin — June 6, 2011 @ 12:54 pm
  7. This is not “new math” – as a Dietitian we have used these quantities for years. The plate is a simplified form for healthy people. I like it much better than the Food Guide Pyramid. 1/2 cup green beans does NOT = 1/2 cup corn and so on…

    Comment by Nancy-The Frugal Dietitian — June 6, 2011 @ 12:56 pm
  8. I agree with Peter it’s all a bunch of B.S.

    Comment by Tim — June 8, 2011 @ 5:03 pm
  9. […] reading: The Atlantic; a blog at the website of AIGA, the professional association for design; and Mouse Print all critiqued the new icon. Slate suggested a revamp of the food pyramid in […]

    Pingback by A Full Plate of Suggestions for USDA on Its New Plate Icon - The Numbers Guy - WSJ — June 10, 2011 @ 8:26 pm
  10. The first thing I thought when I saw the segmented plate was what if I don’t serve every food group separately? What about such things as spaghetti? You have the grain topped with the veggie that has the protein mixed in and you sprinkle it with dairy.

    Comment by Anna — June 13, 2011 @ 3:59 pm
  11. Serving would be a helpful term, except that servings aren’t standardized. Depending on which cereal you buy, a serving ranges from 3/4 of a cup to 1&1/2 cups. The marketing guys are now targeting calories as a selling point so they take their sugar-packed air-ball choco pops and say there’s only 110 calories compared to your 120 calorie corn flakes that give you a full cup with less air.

    Comment by Sandy — August 18, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

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