Last week, the USDA unveiled its new visual nutrition guide – a food plate, which replaced its obtuse and often hard to understand food guide pyramid. According to the food guide pyramid, servings of grains should make up the most of the food that we eat. This is no longer the case in USDA’s new nutrition guidelines.
Grains make up only a quarter of the food plate. Fruits and vegetables make up half of the food plate, protein is a smaller quarter of the plate, and dairy is placed off to the side. This suggests that most of the food we eat should be fruits and vegetables. This wasn’t so clear in the original food guide pyramid, which placed fruits and vegetables in the middle of the pyramid. Moreover, the pyramids assumed that we would know what a “serving” actually means. Who would have thought that a serving of meat equals the size of a deck of cards and a serving of fruit is the size of a tennis ball? The newer version of the food guide pyramid, which showed a person running up the side, didn’t make things any clearer.
Other messages, which accompany the food plate, refer to portion sizes, low sodium, sugar, and fat:
- Enjoy your food, but eat less.
- Avoid oversized portions.
- Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
- Make at least half of your grains whole grains.
- Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
- Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals – and choose the foods with lower numbers.
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
The new food plate has been well-received so far, compared to its precursor pyramid. Some mention that it is so simple that even children can understand its message. Also, the plate is a symbol which makes more sense as a visual guide referring to food. It is now easier to “see,” just by looking at our plates, if we are following the nutritional guidelines. In fact, USDA invited Americans to post pictures of their individual food plates on Twitter, by using the hash-tag #MyPlate.
What are the implications of these new dietary guidelines and new visual for social marketers?
Well first off, this changes the nutrition messages that we promote, especially on behalf of our government clients.
But perhaps more importantly, this example shows that representing messages with simple graphics are more effective. Simple visuals are more memorable and salient, and crafting a graphic that directly relates to the topic at hand, instead of a graphic that misses the mark, is more likely to resonate.
What are your thoughts on the new food plate? Do you get excited when you can see that half of your plate really is filled with fruits and vegetables, or do you think that the new food plate will hardly make a difference in your diet?