Dietary Guidelines for Americans

 

What should Americans eat to stay healthy?

These Guidelines are designed to help answer this question. They provide advice for healthy Americans ages 2 years and over about food choices that promote health and prevent disease. To meet the Dietary Guidelines, choose a diet with most of the calories from grains, vegetables, and fruits, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fish, and poultry. Choose fewer calories from fats and sweets.

 

Eating is one of life's greatest pleasures

Food choices depend on history, culture, and environment, as well as on energy and nutrient needs. People also eat foods for enjoyment. Family, friends, and beliefs play a major role in the ways people select foods and plan meals. This booklet describes some of the many different and pleasurable ways to combine foods to make healthful diets.

 

Diet is important to health at all stages of life

Many genetic, environmental, behavioral, and cultural factors can affect health. Understanding family history of disease or risk factors -- body weight and fat distribution, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol, for example -- can help people make more informed decisions about actions to improve health. Food choices are among the most pleasurable and effective of these actions.

 

Healthful diets help children grow, develop, and do well in school. They enable young and older adults to work productively and feel their best. Food choices also can help to prevent chronic diseases, such as heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, stroke, and osteoporosis, that are leading causes of death and disability among Americans. Good diets can reduce major risk factors for chronic diseases -- factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol.

 

Foods contain energy, nutrients, and other components that affect health

People require energy and certain other essential nutrients. These nutrients are essential because the body cannot make them and must obtain them from food. Essential nutrients include vitamins, minerals, certain amino acids, and certain fatty acids. Foods also contain fiber and other components that are important for health. Although each of these food components has a specific function in the body, all of them together are required for overall health. People need calcium to make bones, for example, but many other nutrients also take part in building and maintaining bones.

 

The carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in food supply energy, which is measured in calories. Carbohydrates and proteins provide 4 calories per gram. Fat contributes more than twice as much -- 9 calories per gram. Alcohol is also high in energy and supplies 7 calories per gram. Foods that are high in fat are also high in calories.

 

Physical activity fosters a healthful diet

Energy needs vary by age. Older adults, for example, need less food than younger and more active individuals. People who are inactive or trying to lose weight may eat little food and have difficulty meeting their nutrient needs in a satisfying diet. Nearly all Americans need to be more active, because a sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy. Increasing the energy spent in daily activities helps to maintain health and allows people to eat a nutritious and enjoyable diet.

 

What is a healthful diet?