February 14, 2018

Maine Food Insider: USDA is showing the love by making nutrition info easier to digest

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Roses are so over with. Show your love with a snowman scene from the USDA's My Plate website

Put down the Valentine's Day chocolate for a minute to consider this — it's six weeks into the new year. How's that resolution to eat better going?

Yes, it's hard. Especially here in Maine, where it's so cold and healthy food just doesn't seem like it's the answer.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to make it easier.

The USDA is updating content to make its resources more accessible to consumers.

The department's food availability lists, which in the past were just that — lists — have been updated to add color, as well as providing programs with information about how items can help people meet the dietary recommendations based on the MyPlate program, which is the seven-year-old replacement of the old food pyramid.

The USDA recently launched the new versions of the Foods Available Lists for The Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. The lists highlight the variety of nutritious foods available through each program and how these foods contribute to a healthy diet. But what does this have to do with you and the seemingly unattainable goal of eating healthy food?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans make recommendations about the types and variety of vegetables and other foods that are needed for a healthy diet.

"Some information, such as the vegetable subgroups, may be unfamiliar to many people," the USDA acknowledges. "The information provided in the Foods Available List is intended to help programs understand the different types of vegetables available through USDA Foods and to encourage programs to offer a variety of different options."

The USDA's MyPlate site also has a link to the There is also a link to the MyPlate, My State page, which drills down to the basics of what's available in each state.

Healthy staple foods native to Maine listed by the USDA include: apples, barley, beans, beef, blueberries, bread, broccoli, chicken, clams, crabs, cranberries, eggs, herring, lobster, milk, mussels, oats, peas, potatoes, raspberries, salmon, strawberries and sweet corn.

Maine's official fruit? Wild blueberries, of course.

Surely, there are comfort food opportunities among those ingredients.

Tips just for you

While the USDA's new-look lists are aimed at programs that help schools and other organizations provide healthy meals, there really is something for the regular eater, too.

The MyPlate, My Wins program, launched in 2016, helps helps people follow federal nutrition guidelines with a variety of tips, apps and testimonials from real people, just like you.

Its website,, offers everything from little tips to help people get started on eating healthy and fitness tips, to videos for the bolder nutrition-focused eaters who want to take healthy eating by the horns.

"MyPlate, MyWins is focused on helping Americans find real-life solutions for a healthy eating style," the website says. "MyPlate, MyWins aims to help you find healthy eating solutions by focusing on all five MyPlate food groups including fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy to ensure you get all the nutrients you need. We understand everyone has different eating habits; solutions and changes are not 'one size fits all.'

"MyPlate, MyWins helps you create your own, personalized healthy eating goals and solutions through choices that support your culture and preferences. Starting with small steps and celebrating milestones – known as 'wins' – along the way are helpful strategies in achieving goals and maintaining changes."

One tool that won't be found after June is the Supertracker, which has tracked individual eating habits and fitness since 2011.

The tracker has been used by more than 27 million people, including in schools, according to the website. But the USDA said there are now so many apps available that do the same thing, it's no longer available.

The ever-popular calorie calculator, at which users can put in their age and other factors to determine how many calories they eat a day, as well as other resources for schools that used the tracker are still available, the site says.

So, right. What about Valentine's Day?

While the site doesn't address it directly, it does have links to the the MyPlate seasonal tips page.

The Winter page points out you're never too old to have fun with your food — and shows how to make a snowman plate using using bananas, raisins, a bell pepper and other healthy food..

Roses are so over with. What says love more than "Let's eat healthy together and enjoy each other's company for as long as we can?"


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