The Mushroom Council hopes its participation in a contest involving the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new MyPlate food icon will help educate consumers about the nutritional and other benefits of mushrooms.

The San Jose-based council has partnered with the Hockessin, Del.-based Produce for Better Health Foundation for the foundation’s MyPlate Makeover Challenge.

In the contest, participants upload a picture of their plates to the Fruit & Veggies — More Matters Facebook page to receive a coupon and be entered to win a free weekly grocery gift card of $100.

The council will create several different plates for the contest.

Fletcher Street, the council’s vice chair and the marketing and sales director for Olympia, Wash.-based Ostrom Mushroom Farms, said the council decided to participate in the MyPlate Makeover Challenge to raise awareness about mushrooms’ virtues.

“MyPlate makes it easier for people to understand” the importance of fruits and vegetables — the icon recommends consumers fill half their plates with produce — and “mushrooms figures in that prominently,” Street said.

“We want to get people thinking about mushrooms as an important part of the produce mix. A lot of times they’re an afterthought.”

MyPlate is a much more effective way of getting the mushroom industry’s message across, compared to the food pyramid that preceded it, Street said.

“The pyramid was really difficult.”

Despite that lack of awareness, mushroom sales have been strong during the economic downturn, Street said.

“People are trying to make their meals more special, and mushrooms fit in with that.”

New research continues to highlight the virtues of mushrooms, Street said.

A medical study, soon to be published, found that mushrooms can effectively replace meat as an entree because they contain properties that make people feel full, Street said.

Ongoing studies also are highlighting the high levels of vitamins and antioxidants in mushrooms and mushrooms’ role in fighting breast cancer, prostate cancer and other diseases.

The MyPlate Makeover Challenge will provide guidance and inspiration, showcasing weekly plates prepared in 30 minutes or less and that are consistent with the new dietary guidelines.

People can follow the makeover challenge and PBH on Facebook or Twitter to track the contest and its winners.