WASHINGTON—MyPlate could more successfully help Americans fight diet-related diseases if the U.S. Department of Agriculture removed the dairy group and replaced the protein portion of the plate with a legumes category, says a federal petition filed on Aug. 10 by the Physicians Committee—a nonprofit with 12,000 doctor members.
“USDA’s MyPlate is making Americans sick,” says Physicians Committee president Neal Barnard, M.D. “MyPlate should help Americans stay healthy; instead, it overemphasizes one nutrient—protein—and encourages consumption of dairy products that fuel the nation’s diet-related disease epidemics.”
MyPlate is an illustration that divides a serving plate into three common food groups—vegetables, fruits, and grains—and one nutrient category—protein—an anomaly that perpetuates the myth that protein is absent in vegetables, fruits, and grains, and that people must take special care to include protein in their diets. The serving plate is accompanied by a smaller adjacent circle representing a dairy group.
The Physicians Committee’s Power Plate features the four essential food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes.
Promoted by health care corporations, grocery retailers, health professional associations, restaurant chains, and food manufacturers, MyPlate is meant to provide nutrition guidance but may actually increase health risks.
The petition recommends removing the dairy group because scientific evidence shows that dairy products offer little if any protection for bone health and increase the risk of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and early death.
Dairy products also harm a significant portion of the U.S. population who suffer from lactose intolerance, which causes bloating, diarrhea, and gas. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 30 million to 50 million American adults are lactose intolerant, including 95 percent of Asians, 60-80 percent of African-Americans and Ashkenazi Jews, 80-100 percent of American Indians, and 50-80 percent of Hispanics.
Although calcium is an essential nutrient, it is available from many other more healthful foods, such as beans, green leafy vegetables, tofu products, breads, and cereals.
The petition also recommends replacing the protein portion of the plate with the legumes food group. The average American consumes roughly double the protein her or his body needs, and the main sources of protein consumed tend to be animal products, which are often high in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. Evidence indicates that meals high in saturated fat adversely affect the compliance of arteries, increasing the risk of heart attacks. Long-term high intake of meat, particularly red meat, is associated with significantly increased risk of colorectal cancer.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise that teen boys and adult men “need to reduce overall intake of protein foods by decreasing intakes of meats, poultry, and eggs and increasing amounts of vegetables...”
Grains, legumes, and vegetables provide adequate but not excess amounts of protein to maintain body tissues, including muscle. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines say that “legumes are excellent sources of protein” but that intakes of legumes are below recommendations.
“MyPlate should focus only on essential food groups,” says the petition. “Vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes are staples available in all grocery stores and familiar to all Americans. Together these four food groups provide the nutrients necessary for a healthful diet that maintains a healthy body weight and prevents disease.”
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research and medical training.