With the release of the updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the U.S. Department of Agriculture shines the spotlight on plant foods. A major component of the overall USDA initiative is MyPlate, a graphic designed to replace the Food Guide Pyramid as a visual image of a healthy diet.
Soyfoods were included in three of the five MyPlate food groups—vegetables, protein and dairy. Soybeans can be considered a vegetable or a protein. The protein group, formerly known as the meat group, has now expanded to include beans, peas, nuts, nut butters, seeds and soy products, (such as tofu, tempeh, edamame and soy meat substitutes.) Fortified soymilk was recognized as a nutritious alternative to meet dairy group needs.
MyPlate was designed as a simple, user-friendly way to inform Americans about healthy eating habits. The message? Choose more nutrient-rich foods and eat less overall. This stronger emphasis on reducing calories, coupled with advice to increase physical activity, is an important message in light of the U.S. obesity epidemic.
The Dietary Guidelines emphasize the value of a plant-based diet, which research suggests is associated with long-term health benefits.1,2 A low-cost, low-fat source of high-quality protein, soy contains all the essential amino acids required by the body, making it nutritionally complete.
In a Silk survey of registered dietitians, 87% of respondents said they promote a plant-based diet to all or some of their patients and clients. A solid majority (77%) said non-dairy alternatives such as soymilk are comparable to dairy in meeting nutritional needs for protein, calcium and vitamins A, D and B12.
Dietitians did note some challenges in implementing the Guidelines. Most (61%) said the general population does not understand the basics of a plant-based diet. Consumers often perceive such a diet as not flavorful, or think it’s too hard to prepare or too costly. Despite their concerns, three-quarters of respondents said the Guidelines are very relevant and will use them in their counseling.
How effective the Guidelines and MyPlate will be as a nutrition education tool remains to be seen. Dietitians are helping spread the word that plant-based diets can be nutrient-rich, sustainable and cost-effective. Replacing animal-based foods, which are often high in saturated fat, with a delicious array of soy options—tofu, tempah, miso, edamame and, of course, soymilk—can be an important step toward meeting the MyPlate recommendations.
1. US Department of Health and Human Services, USDA, Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 7th Ed., 2010, Washington, D.C.
2. Hu FB. Am J Clin Nutr 2003; 78 (supple):544S-51S.