Dietary Guideline Graphics: From the Food Pyramid to My Plate, Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate, and PCRM’s Power Plate

Dietary guideline graphics

In last week’s New England Journal of Medicine, Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard, and David Ludwig, founding director of the childhood obesity program at Children’s Hospital, published a commentary on the latest dietary guidelines. They echo much of what I’ve featured in my three-week video series on the subject.

Their first recommendation to reform the process is to “Move primary responsibility for guideline development to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] or IOM [National Academy of Science Institute of Medicine], to avoid conflicts of interest at the USDA arising from its institutional mission to promote commodities.” I explore this twin USDA mandate to both promote agribusiness and protect our nation’s health in my video USDA Conflicts of Interest. I then profile the dietary guidelines of Greece, a country that has taken this recommendation to heart, in It’s All Greek To The USDA.  The success story in Finland, highlighted in From Dairies to Berries, shows that dietary guidelines based on science rather than corporate influence could save millions of lives.

Drs. Willet and Ludwig also recommend, “Write guidelines that explicitly state which foods should be consumed less by Americans to reduce risk for chronic disease.” When the federal guidelines issue “eat-more” recommendations, the messaging is clear—for example, “Increase vegetable and fruit intake.” But when it comes to “eat-less” messaging, recommendations resort to speaking in cryptic biochemical components, such as “Reduce intake of solid fats (major sources of saturated and trans fatty acids).” In Dietary guidelines: Just Say No I crack the code to translate what that means in terms of actual foods to avoid. Making the message clearer, explain the two prominent Harvard docs, would have “offended powerful industries.”

In Advisory Committee Conflicts of Interest I document how the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee has been made of up individuals funded by McDonald’s, Coca Cola, the Sugar Association, the American Meat Institute, candy bar companies, and the egg and dairy boards. It is no wonder the dietary guidelines don’t explicitly say to avoid unhealthy foods. In Science Versus Corporate Interests I feature an Arlo and Janis cartoon that I think best sums up the situation.

In Dietary guidelines: The First 25 Years I show how the dietary guidelines have gotten progressively weaker even as Americans have gotten sicker. The New Dietary Guidelines for Americans are a definite improvement, though. From the New England Journal commentary: “The guidelines appropriately emphasize eating more vegetables, beans, fruits, whole grains, and nuts and highlight healthful plant-based eating patterns, including vegetarian and vegan diets.” In Plant Protein Preferable a recent review of Dr. Willet’s is showcased, explaining the emphasis on plant rather than animal sources of protein.

Today’s video-of-the-day Progressing from Pyramid to Plate notes the significant improvement represented by MyPlate, the USDA’s new graphic representation of the guidelines, over the previous Food Guide Pyramid. “Unfortunately, like the earlier U.S. Department of Agriculture Pyramids,” said Dr. Willett, “MyPlate mixes science with the influence of powerful agricultural interests, which is not the recipe for healthy eating.” Harvard’s “Healthy Eating Plate” improves on the USDA version by specifying whole grains, replacing the glass of “dairy” with a glass of water, and instructing to “Get most or all of your protein from beans, nuts and seeds, or tofu.” The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s “Power Plate” makes this even more explicit. As Harvard’s healthy eating guide concludes, “Eating a plant-based diet is healthiest.”

Tomorrow I conclude the series with Pushback From The Sugar, Salt, and Meat Industries.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please leave any questions you may have below and don’t miss a single video on dietary guidelines and industry influence!

  • LouiseF

    Is that you in the photograph in front of the White house? And, great job at the Conference to End Factory Farming!

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Good eye! (you must be eating your carrots :). I’m the doc on the far left.

  • nssman

    Hi Dr. Greger,

    From watching your videos, it looks like you are not a big fan of “white stuff” such as sugar, white bread, white potatoes, white rice, etc. I understand that eating sugar is not healthy, but what is the problem with the other white stuff? Since wheat, potatoes, and rice are all vegetables, shouldn’t they be healthy foods to eat?


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  • Caroline Graettinger

    Dr G – are you aware of any action to move the food guidelines work to a more objective entity like the CDC? Something we in the health conscious community can put our voices and votes behind?

  • HemoDynamic, M.D.

    That is FANTASTIC!!! You on the left and is that Dr. Barnard on the far right? All in front of the White House! Where is President Obama? President Clinton should be there as well.

    All of you are doing landmark work in Washington and I whole-heartily applaud you!

    Now I have the unique opportunity to take the Plant Based Lifestyle and message to corporate America because of the vision and backing by John Mackey at Whole Foods Market. We’ll be starting a new test market to teach and support Whole Food Team Members with Plant Based lifestyles and prudent medicine. If it works (I do not see how it cannot) we will take it to all the way throughout Corporate America, hopefully changing the USA for the better!

    I would never of had this chance without the work of so many like yourselves!

    From the bottom of my heart, Thank You!

    Keep up the fantastic work.

  • Dale West

    Dr. Greger you were incredible at the first North American Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference. We appreciate and enjoy your style of education. Thank you
    Dale & Elaine West

  • Artemis Ellina

    There is a lot of discussion about ketogenic diet that cures the hyperhilsulinemia I am curious about the lipidemic profile