By April Forristall, SeafoodSource assistant editor
Published on 01 June, 2011
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday announced that it has scrapped the often maligned food pyramid for a new cleanly designed plate icon that illustrates the key takeaways of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, including eating seafood twice a week.
The MyPlate icon is split into four segments: Protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, with dairy represented as a drink. Seafood lives within the protein wedge on the bottom right of the new icon. The MyPlate campaign, which includes consumer education materials, clearly illustrates that seafood should be the protein of choice twice a week for Americans.
The campaign includes a simple “swap” message that highlights foods Americans need to eat less of, and those consumers need to eat more of, including choosing fat-free or low-fat items instead of regular dairy, water instead of sugary drinks and seafood in place of other animal proteins.
“The best way to look at it is what proteins Americans are eating too much of and need to back away from a bit. And what proteins Americans are eating too little of, and shift those food patterns to being healthier. Most Americans need to shift to more seafood [from the usual chicken or beef],” said Jennifer McGuire, manager of nutrition communication with the National Fisheries Institute in McLean, Va.
But just increasing the recommended weekly intake alone is not necessarily going to increase Americans’ seafood consumption, she said.
“It’s a slightly more clean and defined twice-a-week message, but ultimately it’s still really going to fall in the hands of dieticians as well as doctors and chefs who are an important partner in this campaign to really point out seafood as the preferred protein since that little wedge encompasses a wide variety of choices,” said McGuire. “Those key players need to continue to help the USDA to communicate the guidelines that seafood is the preferred protein.”
McGuire said that efforts like the possibility of WebMD creating a drop-and-drag tool on its website that plays off of the MyPlate graphic, in which consumers can drop and drag actual food into the segments of the plate, are really going to help define what are smart choices with each segment. The MyPlate website, also launched on Thursday, features sample menus which follow the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and provide seafood options.
“This is a much simpler, more graphically compelling and memorable improvement over the pyramid, so I think it has a lot of potential. But because of the simplicity, there’s also all the more importance placed on working together to really define what each segment within the plate means so we just have to go get to work helping the USDA to make sure consumers are getting the right message from the plate,” said McGuire.
For the first time, the U.S. government is advising all Americans, including pregnant and nursing women, to eat seafood at least twice a week for heart and brain benefits as part of its new Dietary Guidelines, updated in January. Previously, the twice-a-week recommendation was limited to heart patients.
Some politicians are now calling on the Obama administration to resolve discrepancies between agencies when it comes to seafood-consumption recommendations for pregnant and nursing women following the USDA’s new seafood-friendly advice.