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USDA's MyPlate reflects health trends

Audrey Kittrell 06/15/2011 @ 4:41pm Editorial Intern for Successful Farming magazine and Agriculture Online

As a producer, it is easy to become mesmerized by rows and rows of corn, wheat, and the like, and lose sight of whom you are producing for.  Like it or not, producers have to respond to the needs of the consumer market.  And American consumers are demanding healthy products now more than ever.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a new dietary model this month called MyPlate, which reflects the changing American diet.  Compared to the nearly two-decade old Pyramid model, MyPlate more strongly emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy.

And this time around, you can put the measuring cups and scale down.  Unlike the Pyramid, MyPlate does not detail serving size, instead opting for a visual approach of dividing your plate into roughly equal amounts of vegetables, fruits, protein and grains.  Add a glass to milk (or other dairy) and you get a balanced meal.

"We know what food groups we need to eat.  No one food group is more or less important than the others. But the Food Pyramid didn't translate how those food groups fit our meals," Erin Laurie, R.D. says. "If you were to follow the 'Choose My Plate' food guide, you would consume all the vital nutrients we need to nourish our body, maintain good health and prevent poor health."

Laurie understands that mealtime can be stressful for families, especially when time and money are factors.  But she says the idea behind MyPlate is to bring all of the elements of a healthy meal together in an easy-to-understand way.

The dinner plate icon is the face of MyPlate, but more extensive learning can be done on the USDA’s website (www.ChooseMyPlate.gov).  Over 100 pages of material exist for meal plans, weight-loss guides and tips to eating better.  For consumers who prefer convenience, the “10 Tips Nutrition Series” is an index of 14 one-page guides to health that are printable to post on the fridge.

As for producers, information on production techniques to increase health is also on the rise.  No-till on the Plains Inc. is a non-profit devoted to increasing the use of no-till cropping systems that will sustain the land and increase farmer’s efficiency and economic potential.  So far, No-till techniques have proven to better the environment, but their latest studies show it may also be enhancing the nutritional value in wheat crops.

“The results are preliminary, but it’s interesting to think of grain production from a consumer’s perspective,” Bill Spiegel, Communications Specialist for Kansas Wheat, said.  “My Dad tells me the average farmer doesn’t think about nutrition on a daily basis.  I’d like to think otherwise and learn otherwise.”

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