The shape may have shifted from a pyramid to a plate, but the message remains the same - dairy is an important part of the daily diet for adults and children alike.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new MyPlate education tool provides a clear and visual message that a healthy diet is comprised of a variety of nutrient-rich foods, including low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese and yogurt.

In the new design, the USDA, Washington, D.C., includes a light blue circle depicting a serving of "dairy" (milk, cheese or yogurt) next to the dinner plate to illustrate how to build a healthy eating plan, including a serving of dairy at every meal.

"Knowing what we do about dairy's ability to reduce the risk of conditions like osteoporosis, hypertension and type 2 diabetes, we think it's exciting that dairy is highlighted individually," says Jean Ragalie, president of National Dairy Council, Chicago. "The location of dairy on the graphic really helps it stand out as an essential part of a healthy eating plan.”

"Milk provides a unique package of nine essential nutrients, and dairy foods are a substantial contributor of many nutrients that are important for good health," says Vivien Godfrey, chief executive officer of the Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP), Washington, D.C. "We are firm believers in the importance of ‘pouring one more' serving of dairy, and this tool will be a fresh reminder to all Americans as they sit down at their tables with their families."

Dairy contributes beyond the glass, as well. A serving of nutrient-rich, low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese or yogurt has, on average, at least as much protein as an egg. In fact, dairy foods contribute 18% of the protein to the American diet. Simple steps such as adding lower fat cheese to a veggie sandwich or topping a baked potato with fat-free plain yogurt can give any meal a nutrient boost.

"Dairy foods are rightfully being recognized - from the school house to the White House - as an important part of everyone's diet," says Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, Arlington, Va. "USDA's new MyPlate, the simple visual metaphor of a serving of dairy products alongside a plate, says it's vital to consume three servings of low-fat and fat-free dairy foods every day."

Americans currently average about two daily servings of dairy foods, while the DGA encourages three daily servings of low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products for adults and children nine years and older. This underscores the importance of a direct, visual metaphor like the MyPlate tool in relaying this guidance to a population being urged to get more nutrients per calorie at every meal.

"We're delighted that this new education tool makes it clear that milk and other dairy products are important for a nutritious diet," said Connie Tipton, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, Washington, D.C. "It highlights how beneficial a serving of dairy at every meal can be and helps to educate people about dairy's role on the table and in the American diet."