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

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., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

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

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    1. Hi Dr.Greger,
      In the last sentence of this article you say,

      As Harvard’s healthy eating guide concludes, “Eating a plant-based diet is healthiest.”

      But when I followed the link to the healthy eating guide I didn’t see that statement anywhere and it looks like they consider fish and poultry “healthy proteins.” Can you clarify this discrepancy?
      I’m very curious about this because my mom really believes the MIND/DASH diet is best and is skeptical of cutting out animal products entirely. She trusts Harvard Health above all else!

      1. Hi Amber, thanks for requesting clarification. A plant based diet is just what it says. Based on plants for the majority of intake. It is not a vegetarian or vegan diet. I don’t think there’s a discrepancy and there’s agreement between the Harvard scientist – most notably Dr. Walter Willet and the rest of the whole food plant based movement – that the majority of our nutrients and the healthiest diet features primarily plants. Having animal protein sparingly and used as a condiment is still a primarily plant based diet. It is in sharp contrast to the Standard American Diet that features large quantities of animal protein at all meals. If your mother adheres to the DASH diet she is doing better than the vast majority of the country and if she doesn’t feel deprived she is more likely to adhere successfully to her healthy choices. Good job on being a great influence on her.

  1. 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?


    1. Hello nssman!

      There are reasons for Dr. Greger disliking “white” foods. Lets go through a few!

      White rice is high in arsenic and has been stripped of most of the nutrients.

      Milling whole wheat into white flour may cause as much as a 300-fold decrease in phytonutrient content.

      White potatoes cause a 50% increased risk in developing kidney cancer.

      Simply go for whole wheat, brown rice, or red/purple/sweet potatoes over white.

      Now what about cauliflower? Its white. Well cauliflower is really good at….stopping breast cancer proliferation as well as other cancers from forming, so cauliflower is a mega plus!

      1. If anyone is missing “white” potato, try steaming cauliflower until tender, then take a stick blender and whip until smooth – throw in some sea salt, freshly ground pepper – they’re delicious and your brain really will think they are mashed potatoes!

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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

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

  6. Hello,

    I wanted to make some clarifications. I am currently eating around ten servings of vegetables and fruits per day, along with grass fed or pastured raised meat and eggs. I also have flaxseed, chia seeds, and nuts daily. I feel like I am eating plant based because the priority of my meals is whole food plants. From this limited description, do feel I should be doing anything different? Thanks you!

  7. All compelling scientific evidence clearly points to the fact that your egg and meat intake is increasing your risk for premature death.

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