First Lady Michelle Obama and Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled the government’s new food icon, MyPlate, which replaces the decades’ old Food Pyramid.
Dairy is represented as a blue circle off to the right of the MyPlate icon, which is divided into four sections for fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins. The recommendations for dairy are three cups per day of fat-free or low fat milk or dairy product equivalent.
Connie Tipton, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, is one of the food executives quoted in the USDA release applauding the new icon: “We’re delighted that this new education tool provides a clear, visual message that milk and other dairy products are important for a nutritious diet. The dairy industry commends the USDA for highlighting how beneficial a serving of dairy at every meal can be, and for educating people about dairy’s role on the table and in the American diet.”
The recommendations call for 2 cups of no-far or low-fat dairy per day for children 2 to 3 years old, 2 ½ cups per day for children 4 to 8 years old, and 3 cups for everyone 9 years or older.
But MyPlate isn’t a total win for dairy. If you dig deeper into the supporting material, you’ll find that soymilk fortified with calcium is considered a part of the dairy group and can be used to replace milk.
Specifically, USDA says
: “All fluid milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Most Dairy Group choices should be fat-free or low-fat. Foods made from milk that retain their calcium content are part of the group. Foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter, are not. Calcium-fortified soymilk (soy beverage) is also part of the Dairy Group.”
Apparently, soy milk have been considered part of the dairy group since the 2005 guidelines were released. But Dairy Management, Inc. says it's hardly equivalent:
"It’s important to remember that soy-based beverages vary considerably in their nutrient profiles and soy beverages are not nutritionally equivalent to milk’s unique nutrient package.
·The fortification of nondairy beverages does not guarantee that they are nutritionally equivalent to milk, and the bioavailability of calcium forms and sources varies.
· In general, soy beverages and other nondairy beverages do not naturally contain the same nutrient package found in fluid milk, and nutrient profiles vary considerably; as a result, they require fortification that extends beyond just calcium to mimic milk’s complete nutrient package."
The USDA site also offers a MyFood-a-pedia link where foods can be compared. But it may serve to confuse more than enlighten. For example, fat free milk is listed as 83 calories per cup. When you compare that to 2% milk, it shows 122 calories with 41 of those calories coming from “extras,” which it lists as “ solid fats, added sugars and alcohol.”