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The US Department of Agriculture will discontinue use of the food pyramid, the symbol of balanced diets adopted in 1992. We'll be using a dinner plate, with colored sections for fruits, vegetables, grain, and protein.

Just Don't Call It a Pie Chart

The US Department of Agriculture is about to discontinue use of the food pyramid, the symbol of balanced diets originating in Denmark in 1978 and adopted by the United States in 1992. (The original food pyramid is probably an invention of Swedish cookbook author Anna Britt Agnsäter, published by the Swedish government in 1974.) In its place, American nutrition regulators will be using a dinner plate, with colored sections for fruits, vegetables, grain, and protein. Beneath the dinner plate will be a smaller circle symbolizing dairy products, such as milk or yogurt.

The food pyramid used to show a base of breads, cereal, rice, and pasta, with 6 to 11 daily servings recommended for adults. The next horizontal layer of the food pyramid was fruits and vegetables. Americans were urged to eat 3 to 5 servings of vegetables and 2 or 3 servings of fruit every day. The third horizontal level was protein foods (meat, fish, chicken, and nuts) and dairy. Americans were advised to eat 2 or 3 servings from both of these groups every day. At the point of the pyramid was sugar and oils, which Americans were advised to use sparingly.

In 2005, the US Department of Agriculture replaced the old, monochromatic pyramid with horizontal layers with a new, colorful pyramid consisting of five food groups meeting at the top. In the new food pyramid, there were no recommended servings of sugar or oils. And early June 2011, the food pyramid will be replaced with a dinner plate, already used by dietitians in Australia and New Zealand as the Rate Your Plate system.

Rate Your Plate

The Rate Your Plate system has been popular in both Australia and New Zealand since about 2000. The idea of Rate Your Plate involves not just which foods to eat but how much food to eat.

In this system as it is practiced in Australia and New Zealand, diners eat a single plate filled with food three times a day. A standard dinner plate is 13" or 325 mm across.

Half of the plate is filled with vegetables and/or fruit. A quarter of the plate is filled with starchy food. A quarter of the plate is filled with protein food. There may also be a serving of milk or yogurt, and zero-calorie beverages as desired.

The Rate Your Plate system has several advantages over the food pyramid. There are no servings to count. There are no calories to count. If you eat the right foods in the right places on your plate, and you only eat one plate per meal and three meals per day, chances are that you will not gain weight.

Even diabetics are encouraged to use Rate Your Plate rather than counting carbs because of its simplicity. The theory is that it is better for diabetics and other dieters to stick to an inexact measurement system than to know how much they overeat!

The similarities between the new US Department of Agriculture symbol and the Australian Rate Your Plate system will be revealed Thursday 2 June. Just remember that your plate is only as healthy as the foods you put on it—and only one plate per meal to keep from gaining weight.