The U.S. Department of Agriculture has unveiled a new icon that it hopes will make choosing healthful foods easier for all Americans. The icon, which replaces the old food pyramid, is a colorful graphic image of a plate divided into separate sections and is intended to provide a visual reminder of the appropriate balance between the different food groups.

One of the most striking things about the plate icon is its simplicity. One half of the plate is comprised of fruits and vegetables, with a slightly larger portion of vegetables, and the other half is comprised of grains and protein, with a very slightly bigger portion of grains. A smaller cup icon labeled "Dairy" is next to the plate.

There are no numbers to crunch and no differences in recommendations for kids, adults, seniors, and other groups. According to the Web site,, the overarching messages the government wants to impart to everyone are these:

  • Calories need to be taken into consideration. You should enjoy eating, but be careful to consume fewer calories. Portion sizes should be reduced.
  • Certain foods should be emphasized and certain foods limited. Your plate should be fully half fruits and veggies, and half of your grains should be whole grains. Dairy should be fat-free or low-fat. What to eat less of? Sodium and sugar.

Another important message has to do with protein. Most important is that protein choices be lean. You should be conscious while shopping to choose the leanest cuts of meat or the leanest ground meats available. Poultry skin should be removed, and foods should be broiled, roasted, or grilled rather than fried. Also remember to vary your protein choices, making sure to include plenty of fish, seafood, beans, soy, and nuts in your diet.

The Web site goes into further detail for each food group. For instance, while the plate icon simply advises you to eat slightly more than a quarter of your calories in the form of grains, consumers can click on links in both the "Food Groups" and "Tips and Resources" sections that talk about the importance of whole grains and how to incorporate them into your diets. Similar information is available for fruits, vegetables, dairy, and protein.

It can be difficult or even impossible to make perfect choices every day regarding calories and nutrition. What the new plate icon will do, hopefully, is help all consumers keep balance and health in the forefronts of their minds when shopping for, cooking, and enjoying their meals and snacks.

If everyone starts to make better choices on a regular basis, the country will no doubt enjoy better health and greater longevity.

U.S. Department of Agriculture