By Jennipher Walters
June 02, 2011

Move over MyPyramid. There's a new healthy eating standard in town, and it's called MyPlate. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the new food icon today, which serves as a less complex visual reminder for Americans to make healthier choices.

The new icon isn't just a new look - it's a new approach to healthy eating, says Cynthia Harriman, Director of Food and Nutrition Strategies for Oldways. Unlike the old MyPyramid, MyPlate tells Americans exactly what should be on their plates, emphasizing the correct portions of vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.

"It's easier to sit down at a particular meal and say, 'Am I following the Food Plate?' than it is to relate the abstract stripes of the old pyramid to what you should put on your plate," Harriman says.

Additionally, the new plate is a flexible concept that adapts to a wide range of cultures, she says. And it has support of the White House and the First Lady's Let's Move campaign, providing a renewed commitment to healthy eating at many levels of government.

"It's not being thrown out there by itself with the idea that an icon alone can address the enormous challenge of unhealthy eating," Harriman says.

The only things the MyPlate icon is missing? Real food!

"A plate full of mouthwatering-but-healthy food says so much more than a plate with a few words on it," she says. "USDA officials realize this, and have called on companies and organizations to contribute to a Food Plate Library that will take the iconic plate to the next step, with examples of a wide range of healthy meals."

Another criticism of the new plate is that it doesn't address American's propensity to snack and isn't specific that fruits should be eaten and not drank as juice, that grains should be whole-grain, that we should consume a variety of colors in our vegetables, and that protein doesn't always have to be meat.

Overall, though. MyPlate seems to be a major improvement over the old food pyramid - especially as it draws new attention to the importance of a healthy diet.

"Americans need to pay more attention to the foods they're inviting into their bodies," Harriman says. "So change in and of itself is good, because it stirs things up and gets people thinking."

Jennipher Walters is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites and A certified personal trainer, lifestyle and weight management coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and regularly writes about all things fitness and wellness for various online publications.