How does lean beef stack up on MyPlate? Analysis and reaction to new food icon
by Shalene McNeill, Ph.D., R.D., Executive Director, Human Nutrition Research – NCBA; Season Solorio, Director, Issues Management – NCBA and Clara Lau, Ph.D., Associate Director, Human Nutrition Research
The Food Guide Pyramid (1992), which evolved to MyPyramid in 2005, was widely adopted and used by nutrition educators, the food industry, federal food and nutrition programs and schools, among others. A large majority of the American public was familiar with the graphic. However, qualitative research in 2002 and 2004 indicated that, while key concepts of the Pyramid were understood, specific knowledge about it was limited. In June 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a new Food Guidance System and the latest tool to help consumers adopt healthy eating habits consistent with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The new icon – MyPlate – illustrates the five food groups using a familiar mealtime visual: a place setting. MyPlate symbolizes the recommendation to build a healthful plate based on the food groups with an emphasis on the fruit, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy food groups. But will MyPlate become what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner in America and how does lean beef fit into MyPlate?
History: From MyPyramid to MyPlate
The USDA Food Guidance System incorporates recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines and helps to visually and interactively translate nutritional recommendations into the types and amounts of food to eat each day. While the Dietary Guidelines are mandated by law to be published every five years and are based on the latest preponderance of scientific evidence, the Food Guidance System is not required to be updated every five years – however, it is often reviewed simultaneously with the Dietary Guidelines in order to keep up with changes to the science or new dietary recommendations.
Relevant to beef, the Dietary Guidelines and accompanying Food Guidance System have, since 1980, suggested that the public consume lean meats as part of a healthy diet. The first graphic presentation of a suggested governmental Food Guidance System was depicted as a Food Wheel that was part of a joint American Red Cross-USDA nutrition course in 1984 and recommended two to three servings per day of meat, fish, eggs and poultry.
In 1992, the first Food Guide Pyramid was developed and introduced to translate the nutrition recommendations of the 1990 Dietary Guidelines for Americans into the kinds and amounts of foods to eat each day. The foods at the base of the Pyramid represented the foods to eat more of and the foods to eat less of were at the top of the Pyramid. However, 10 years after the introduction of the Food Guide Pyramid, researchers began realizing that despite widespread recognition of the icon, few Americans actually put the healthy eating recommendations of the Pyramid into practice.
In 2001, USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) initiated an effort to review and update the Food Guide Pyramid, in hopes of better understanding how the symbol might change consumer behaviors and encourage healthier eating patterns. Consumer focus groups were conducted and qualitative graphic concepts were tested. The qualitative research found that though most participants were familiar with the Food Guide Pyramid and could recall some of the nutrition messages that the Pyramid was designed to convey, participants overall had difficulty recalling the specific nutrition messages and often did not understand the information correctly.
For example, less than one out of five participants were able to correctly place all of the food groups in the Pyramid in the correct tiers and 1 in 8 could not place a single food group in its correct tier. The focus groups also showed that there was a great deal of confusion surrounding serving sizes and participants specifically could not compare how their typical meals corresponded with the recommendations. Many participants also expressed confusion at the difference between "portion" and "serving size" and in fact, considered the terms to be interchangeable. Overall, the research showed that consumers wanted serving size terminology more clearly defined; a graphic that was more user-friendly and simplified; and an interactive website for more personalized or additional information. The Pyramid icon was not sufficient to teach all nutrition concepts, nor could it change behavior alone.
In 2005, a new Pyramid was introduced, taking into account these findings and what consumers wanted. The MyPyramid icon included color-coded stripes that corresponded with the recommended amounts of food to eat, which were measured for the first time in cups and ounces instead of servings, from each group (Figure 3). Importantly, the primary intent of the MyPyramid graphic was not to serve as the sole teaching tool for translating the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for consumers, but rather was intended to serve as an easily recognizable icon that would drive consumers to a more comprehensive “interactive” food guidance system on-line at the MyPyramid.gov website where they could find and develop personalized nutrition information. The MyPyramid also for the first time included a physical activity recommendation, shifting the focus to include both physical activity and a healthy diet.
Despite these improvements, MyPyramid drew a great deal of criticism for being still simultaneously too complex and too simplistic. Confusion also arose with some using the 1992 Pyramid and others using the 2005 MyPyramid. While it was recognized that the Pyramid had significant brand equity among nutrition education intermediaries and consumers, some felt that had become too familiar and that consumers were no longer paying attention and implementing its advice. An entirely new image was needed to refocus attention on healthy eating.
In 2010, the White House Childhood Obesity Task Force called for a new and simple food icon to replace the Pyramid, which had been in place in some form since 1992. Consumer research showed that people prefer nutrition messages to be simple and actionable. The entirely new shape was intended to catch the public’s attention and prompt them to refocus attention on healthy eating. A plate was identified as a potential alternative image to the food pyramid due to its association with eating and its frequent use in the marketplace to demonstrate to consumers how to build a healthy meal.
Building a healthful plate with lean beef
MyPlate was officially released in June 2011 as part of a comprehensive communications initiative to promote healthful food choices based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released earlier in the year. It uses a familiar mealtime visual to illustrate the five food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy) and suggested proportions. The primary messages of MyPlate are to balance calories consumed and expended, increase intake of certain foods and reduce intake of other foods. Consumers are encouraged to visit ChooseMyPlate.gov for resources to help them live a healthier life. Later this year, USDA will launch an online tool for consumers that can be personalized and helpful in managing their dietary and physical activity choices.
MyPlate has been applauded by industry food groups as well as nutrition experts and consumers for being more simplistic and easy-to-follow. According to a poll on the Washington Post on the day MyPlate was introduced, more than 40 percent of voters said that they think that the new MyPlate image will lead to better food choices. The straight-forward visual illustrates how to build a healthful plate using protein-rich foods like lean beef, which provides nearly half of the daily value for protein, plus nine other essential nutrients in one 3-oz serving in about 150 calories. In fact, protein, such as lean beef, is the cornerstone of MyPlate, providing the opportunity for lean beef to become an essential building block for consumers who want to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. MyPlate gets back to the basics and illustrates how to create a balanced mix of nutrition from all food groups to create a healthful plate.
Opportunities for lean beef
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans brings back the concept of "enjoying our food, but eating less" and the new MyPlate allows consumers to customize their plates to fit individual tastes. In fact, initial message testing prior to the release of the Dietary Guidelines, the message of "enjoy what you eat, just eat less of it" was consistently ranked as the most effective message according to participants across geographic regions and eating habit segments.
This provides tremendous opportunity for lean beef, which is hailed as America’s favorite protein with more than 90 percent of Americans already enjoying the taste of beef. Recognized by both the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans report and the new MyPlate as a nutrient-dense food, lean beef has the opportunity to help Americans meet dietary recommendations. With more than 29 cuts of beef that meet government guidelines for lean including Sirloin, Tenderloin, T-Bone steak and 95 percent lean Ground Beef, it is easy for Americans to make lean beef a part of a healthy plate that is full of both great taste and nutrition. Since 67 percent of all beef muscle cuts sold at retail are lean, many consumers are already choosing lean cuts for themselves and their families.
Research also suggests that including lean beef in a heart-healthy diet provides more variety to the diet, which can help improve long-term adherence. By utilizing recipes from BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com or adding lean beef to a favorite salad, stir-fry, or vegetable-rich casserole, Americans can create satisfying and delicious meals that also help build a plate with half of it full of fruits and vegetables.
Stakeholders, including the beef industry, are critical to achieving sustained visibility and implementation of MyPlate and according to USDA, should be part of a fundamental coordinated, consistent, and multi-modal communications effort to help consumers make healthy choices. Knowing that lean beef and other foods fit onto their plate gives consumers even more reasons to enjoy beef and to feel good about eating it. This continues to give the beef industry tremendous opportunity to continue to promote the role of lean beef as part of a healthy plate.
- A variety of "how-to" materials and useful information for consumers and health professionals can be found on ChooseMyPlate.gov. "Let's Eat for the Health of It," a brochure that highlights themes from the Dietary Guidelines, gives practical advice and strategies to make healthful food choices. The 10 Tips Series are handouts that provide easy-to-follow tips on a variety of topics to help consumers make small changes toward more healthful eating. Consumers can also find sample menus and recipes on the website.
- Beef Nutrition
- Visit www.beefnutrition.org for information and educational materials about nutrition and health, with resources highlighting lean beef ’s benefits in a healthy diet.
- Beef ItsWhatsForDinner.com
- Visit www.BeefItsWhatsFordinner.com for recipes that include beef as part of a healthy lifestyle.