Harvard to USDA: Our Plate Is Better Than MyPlate


Last June, the USDA replaced its long-suffering food guide pyramid with the more plain-spoken MyPlate. Its merits quickly became a source of debate among nutritionists and public policy types, including those at the Harvard School of Public Health. And now scientists there have done what people at Harvard tend to do, which is to say they’ve come up with something better.

Earlier this week, the school introduced its Healthy Eating Plate, a “better version” of the USDA’s icon. The plate, says a Harvard professor of medicine in a press release, provides “consumers with an easy to use but specific guide to healthy eating based on the best science available.”

The most significant difference between MyPlate and the Harvard model is the explicitness of their recommendations. Where the USDA plate says nothing about healthy oils and only advises drinking water instead of sugary drinks, for example, the Healthy Eating Plate specifically states that sugary drinks should be avoided, and advises using healthy oils, limiting butter, and avoiding trans fats. And where MyPlate recommends making at least half your grains whole grains, Harvard stresses eating mainly whole grains and limiting things like white bread and white rice. It also makes distinctions between healthy and less healthy sources of protein, whereas the USDA plate says nothing about sources of protein. Harvard also recommends limiting dairy, while the USDA endorses consuming it with every meal.

Although Harvard diplomatically describes MyPlate as a “starting point,” it doesn’t mince words in describing its “shaky foundation”: the icon’s creation, says the Harvard release, was “influenced more by the food industry and agricultural interests than science. MyPlate continues this unhelpful trend.”

The Health Eating Plate, on the other hand, “is based on nutritional science and is not influenced even a smidgeon by commercial pressure.”

Whether or not the Harvard plate will influence even a smidgeon of the general public or only those who worry about the health of the general public remains to be seen, but here’s hoping it at least inspires some healthy debate.

[Via Food Politics]