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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?

Healthful diets contain the amounts of essential nutrients and energy needed to prevent nutritional deficiencies and excesses. Healthful diets also provide the right balance of carbohydrate, fat, and protein to reduce risks for chronic diseases, and they are obtained from a variety of foods that are available, affordable, and enjoyable.


The Recommended Dietary Allowances refer to nutrients

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA's) are the amounts of nutrients that will prevent deficiencies and excesses in most healthy people. Although some people with average nutrient requirements may eat adequately at levels below the RDA, diets that meet RDA's are almost certain to ensure intake of enough essential nutrients. The Dietary Guidelines describe food choices that will help you meet these recommendations. Like the RDA's, the Guidelines apply to diets consumed over several days and not to single meals or foods.

The Dietary Guidelines describe food choices that promote good health

The Dietary Guidelines are designed to help Americans choose diets that will meet nutrient requirements, promote health, support active lives, and reduce chronic disease risks. Research has shown that certain diets raise risks for chronic diseases. Such diets are high in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt. They are low in vegetables, fruit, and fiber, and they contain more energy than the body uses. The Guidelines help you choose foods, meals, and diets that will reduce those risks.


Food labels help you make food choices

The Nutrition Facts Label is designed to help you select foods that will meet the Dietary Guidelines. Most processed foods now carry nutrition information. However, foods like coffee and tea (which contain no significant amounts of nutrients), ready-to-eat foods like deli and bakery items, and restaurant food are not required to carry nutrition labels. Labels are also voluntary for many raw foods, but grocers can supply this information for the raw fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, and poultry that are consumed most frequently. Use the new food label to choose healthful foods each day.



To obtain the nutrients and other substances needed for good health, vary the foods you eat

Foods contain combinations of nutrients and other healthful substances. No single food can supply all nutrients in the amounts you need. For example, oranges provide vitamin C but no vitamin B12. Cheese provides vitamin B12 but no vitamin C. To make sure you eat all of the nutrients and other substances needed for health, choose the recommended number of daily servings from each of five different food groups displayed in the Food Guide Pyramid


Use foods from the base of the Food Guide Pyramid as the foundation of your meals

Americans do choose a wide variety of foods. However, people often choose higher or lower amounts from some food groups than recommended in the Food Guide Pyramid. The pyramid shows that foods from the grain group, along with vegetables and fruits, are the basis of healthful diets. Enjoy meals that have rice, pasta, potatoes, or bread at the center of the plate, accompanied by vegetables and fruit, and lean and low-fat foods from the other groups. Limit fats and sugars added in food preparation. Compare the recommended servings in box 1 with what you usually eat.


Box 1. Choose Foods From Each of Five Food Groups

The Food Guide Pyramid shows the recommended balance among food groups in a daily eating pattern. Most of the daily servings of food should be selected from the food groups that are the largest in the picture and closest to the base of the pyramid.


*    Choose most of your calories from foods in the grain group (6-11 servings), the vegetable group (3-5 servings), and the fruit group (2-4 servings).


*    Eat moderate amounts of foods from the dairy group (2-3 servings) and the meat and beans group (2-3 servings).


*    Choose fewer foods high in fat and sugars (consume sparingly).

Note: A range of servings is given for each food group. The smaller number is for people who consume about 1,600 calories a day. The larger number is for those who consume about 2,800 calories a day


What counts as a serving?

See box 2 for suggested serving sizes in the Food Guide Pyramid food groups. Notice that some of the serving sizes are smaller than what you might usually eat. For example, many people eat a cup or more of pasta in a meal, which is equal to two or more servings. So, it is easy to eat the number of servings recommended.


Box 2 What Counts as a Serving?*-------------------------------------------

Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta

- 1 slice of bread

- 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal

- 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, and pasta



- 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables

- 1/2 cup of other vegetables - cooked or chopped raw

- 3/4 cup of vegetable juice



- 1 medium apple, banana, orange

- 1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit