America’s widely recognized food pyramid is being replaced by a simpler, more relevant nutritional symbol: a plate. First Lady Michelle Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin unveiled “My Plate,” a graphic intended to give consumers an easy-to-understand guide to healthy eating, at a news conference Thursday.

my plate logo - insidefeatured.jpgThe symbol is divided into four portions, fruits and vegetables take up a little over half the plate, grains and protein roughly split the other half of the plate. The graphic also includes an additional serving of dairy.

“All of us care about our nation’s health. When we act together and when we focus on our common goals… we can find consensus and we can agree on something that makes sense for everyone,” said Mrs. Obama at the unveiling, noting that last year’s White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity report called for “simpler, more actionable messages about nutritional choices.”

“We needed something useful, something simple, that’s why I like the my plate approach,” said Mrs. Obama. “Parents don’t have the time to measure out exactly three ounces of protein. We do have time to look at our kids’ plates … we do it every day.”

The First Lady added that daughters Malia and Sasha have been briefed on the guide. “We are implementing this in our household.”

Mrs. Obama, Secretary Vilsack and Surgeon General Benjamin all emphasized that while the simplified graphic is an “enormous step,” it is by no means a nutritional panacea. The symbol does not improve access to affordable fruits and vegetables, it doesn’t get Americans exercising, it doesn’t help fund training and equipment to help schools provide healthier meals, and it doesn’t ensure a shift in eating habits.

It’s simply about emphasizing healthy choices and proportions, explained Vilsack at the press conference.

“It’s not designed to tell you specifically what to eat, just to tell you the healthy proportions,” said Vilsack. On a personal note, Vilsack said that, while the food pyramid didn’t really resonate with him, the new plate recently helped him choose what to eat at a luncheon. “The steak took up three-quarters of my plate, so I didn’t eat it all.”

“We’re not telling people what to eat, we are giving them a guide,” he added. 

A number of simple, actionable nutrition messages accompany the new graphic:

Balance Calories

Enjoy your food, but eat less.
Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase

Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
Make at least half your grains whole grains.

Foods to Reduce

Compare sodium (salt) in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals, and choose foods with lower numbers.
Drink water instead of sugary drinks.