Monday, January 10, 2011

USDA Sued Over Dietary Guidelines

Which do you like better, this:

Or this:

The first one is MyPyramid, the food guide graphic that accompanies the USDA's Dietary Guidelines from 2005 (the updated 2010 Dietary Guidelines have yet to be published). The second is PowerPlate, the food guide graphic of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).

PCRM is suing the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services for failing to respond to their petition that offers an alternative set of guidelines:

Doctors' Group Sues USDA Over Vegetarian Alternative To Food Pyramid

PCRM's Susan Levin:
"We are asking the government to protect the average American, not special agribusiness interests. MyPyramid is confusing, and it recommends meat and dairy products despite overwhelming evidence that these foods are unnecessary and unhealthy. Research shows the Power Plate is a better choice, and it's simple enough that a child could follow it."
What do you think?

I think PCRM took a bold move. They know the USDA won't endorse a meatless, dairyless food guide. So, they're spending money on a lawsuit for what? To draw attention to themselves? Or to USDA's industry influence? Whatever their motive, it seems more political than substantive.

Politics aside, the PowerPlate does have some advantages:
  • PowerPlate is simple. MyPyramid is complex (you have to sign in to see what pyramid applies to you) and not at all intuitive. Even the old pre-2005 pyramid (shown) was easier to follow ... eat more from the base and less as you rise.

  • PowerPlate emphasizes foods I think should be emphasized: beans, grains, fruits, vegetables. It's difficult to know, just by looking at it, what foods MyPyramid emphasizes. I'll say this ... 3 servings of dairy foods a day, which they recommend for most people (or is it the Dairy Council doing the recommending), is too much.
I'd change one thing about the PowerPlate. Instead of rejecting food from animal sources entirely, why not include a guide for animal food consumption relative to plant food. Even if it's as a condiment, or "eat sparingly," or "choose from sustainably- and humanely-raised sources" if that is your leaning. It would be more inclusive, more instructive. Not addressing animal food consumption at all, in today's food culture, significantly narrows your audience.

Lastly, regarding MyPyramid, I do not think that exercise guidelines belong in a dietary guidelines report. But industry likes it there and probably lobbied for it. Indeed, food companies promote "physical activity" in their own ads to deflect attention away from the negative effects of a poor diet and to place the onus for health upon the individual. You know how I feel about that.

If you'd like to see how your diet stacks up against USDA recommendations, go to MyPyramid Tracker, and click "Assess Your Food Intake." You'll need to register first. It may be a prejudiced tool, but it's a powerful tool.


legend_018 said...

It seems as though many people, including doctors are saying to stay away from grains!! For some reason, I feel more comfortable with the evidence I've read that a Paleo type diet is the healthiest diet to be on. I'm not on a Paleo diet, but I've read a lot about it. I do know some Paleo people don't do dairy, but the definitely eat meat and stress in many ways how grains are BAD for you in many ways.

Interesting and confusing to see a group or groups of people saying to not eat the meat and to eat the grains.

Autumn Hoverter, MS, RD said...

Power Plate includes a note to include sources of B12 like an MVI or fortified foods. So, we don't need ANY animal products but we need a synthetic vitamin?

Quite frankly, I'm not a fan of either model and I don't use the USDA guidelines frequently in my practice. I've always found their serving sizes confusing for clients and instead show them what a "healthy plate" should look like, similar to the Power Plate model.

Thanks for including this Bix!

RB said...

Beans and greens! I like it. But they need to include nuts - Almonds, walnuts, cashews, ...
BTW legend_018, with respect to grain, I like to include chia seeds in my oatmeal -- a good source of protein and omega 3.