Alisa Fleming ~ It was 1956 when the public was first fed the “Basic Four” food groups of Milk, Meat, Fruit & Vegetables, and Grains. Nearly 40 years later, the simple squares were upgraded to a pyramid with six quadrants proportionate in size to the amount of your diet that the USDA felt you should consume of each food group. The public was confused, so they simplified the pyramid just a bit in 2005, but added in an element of exercise to make it an overall image for health. Not surprisingly, their modernized campaign was still in the shadows of the easy-to-comprehend “Basic Four,” so the designers for the USDA leveled their pyramids and went back to the drawing board. The result is the new Choose My Plate campaign, which I have to admit, is rather clever.
The USDA has returned to simplicity, and loosened their terminology to add some flexibility. The new plate image is brilliant … creating a visual picture of what your meals might look like rather than some strange pyramid that really has nothing to do with food. To accommodate different diets, the “meat” group has changed to “protein” (I'm assuming the growing acceptance of vegan and vegetarian diets had a lot to do with this), and the USDA is actually recognizing calcium-fortified soymilk as a part of the "Dairy Group.*
Some soy opponents may not be excited about this news, but in reality, it is a big step for all dairy-free consumers, whether soy-free or not. Plus, the new Choose My Plate campaign does acknowledge some of the other dairy-free options in a footnote to the dairy group:
"Calcium choices for those who do not consume dairy products include:
- Calcium fortified juices, cereals, breads, rice milk, or almond milk.
- Canned fish (sardines, salmon with bones), soybeans and other soy products (tofu made with calcium sulfate, soy yogurt, tempeh), some other beans, and some leafy greens (collard and turnip greens, kale, bok choy). The amount of calcium that can be absorbed from these foods varies." [Yes, it does vary. In fact your body can absorb more calcium from some of these foods than dairy!]
They do of course include this caveat, “Calcium-fortified foods and beverages such as cereals, orange juice, rice milk, or almond milk may provide calcium, but may not provide the other nutrients found in dairy products.” Nonetheless, I’m happy for the progress.
To be honest, I never thought I would see the day when the USDA would recognize a dairy-free alternative in the dairy group. Hopefully this will pave the way for more dairy-free options and education in our schools, other government-sponsored programs, and even in restaurants.
Article by Alisa Fleming, founder of GoDairyFree.org, blogger at Alisa Cooks, and author of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. Alisa is also a freelance writer for several publications, with an emphasis on creating recipes for various types of special diets.