The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides evidence-based nutrition information and advice for people age two and older to help Americans make smart choices about food and physical activity so they can live healthier lives. They also serve as the basis for federal food and nutrition education programs, like the new MyPlate food icon.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, produced by HHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture every five years, analyze the latest research to help Americans make smart choices about food and physical activity so they can live healthier lives.
The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 focuses on balancing food choices with physical activity, and encourage Americans to consume more healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and seafood, and to consume less sodium, saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and refined grains.
The Guidelines note the important role that physical activity and healthy eating habits can play in preventing weight gain, reducing weight, and reducing risk for chronic diseases, and advise that people eat the recommended amount of calories for each life stage: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, pregnancy and breastfeeding, and older age. The Guidelines recommend increasing physical activity and reducing time spent being sedentary to maintain a healthy weight or to reduce weight.
What Foods and Nutrients to Increase
Many Americans consume less than ideal amounts of certain nutrients needed for a healthy diet. To make sure you're getting proper nutrition to feel your best, the Guidelines recommend increasing your intake of:
- Vegetables and fruit. Make sure to eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas, and fruits.
- Whole grains. Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. You can increase your whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains, like switching out white bread for whole-grain bread.
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Drink or eat fat-free or low-fat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverages.
- Protein variety. Choose a variety of proteins, such as seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.
- Seafood. Increase the amount and variety of seafood you eat by choosing seafood in place of some meat and poultry.
- Foods high in nutrients. Choose foods that provide more potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D, which are nutrients of concern in American diets. Foods high in these nutrients are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and milk and milk products.
Foods and Food Components to Reduce
More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, often as a result of unhealthy diets and a sedentary lifestyle. To improve our nation's health, the Dietary Guidelines recommend reducing the following:
- Salt. Don't consume more than 2,300 milligrams (mg), or about a teaspoon, of salt (or sodium) each day. People who are 51 years and older, African American, or who have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease should consume less than 1,500 mg daily.
- Saturated fats. Less than 10% of your calories should come from saturated fats. Saturated fats are found in meats, dairy, and eggs. You can help reduce the amount of saturated fats you eat by choosing lean cuts of meat and low-fat dairy products. The Dietary Guidelines also suggest replacing saturated fats with healthier fats, like the fats found in olives, olive oil, nuts, avocados, sesame, and corn.
- Cholesterol. Cholesterol is found in animal products like meats, dairy, and eggs. The Guidelines recommend eating less than 300 mg per day of cholesterol to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Trans fat. Keep the amount of trans fat you eat as low as possible. You can do this in part by limiting the amount of solid fats you eat, like the fats found in desserts, pizza, processed and fatty meats (e.g., sausages, hot dogs, bacon, ribs), and ice cream. Try to replace solid fats with oils when possible.
- Added sugars. Soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks are a major source of added sugar in American diets.
- Refined grains. Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains (a grain that is not a whole grain), especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium, such as pizza and many baked goods (cookies, cakes, pastries, and donuts).
- Alcohol. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men—and only by adults of legal drinking age.
- Women capable of becoming pregnant should eat foods that supply iron (found in red meats, fish, poultry, lentils, and beans) and folic acid (found in fortified breakfast cereals and iron supplements). Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should eat 8-12 ounces of seafood each week, but limit the amount of white tuna to 6 ounces per week and avoid the following four fish: tilefish, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. Pregnant women are advised to take an iron supplement as recommended by their doctor.
- People ages 50 years and older should eat foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as fortified breakfast cereals or take vitamin B12supplements.
How to Build Healthy Eating Patterns
The Guidelines offer overall guidance on healthy eating. Most important, make sure your diet is meeting your nutritional needs at the appropriate calorie level. U.S. Department of Agriculture's SuperTracker can help you determine what and how much to eat to stay within your recommended daily calorie needs. The SuperTracker can also let you know if you've meet your nutritional goals each day, or if your intake has exceeded the recommended levels for foods you should be limiting, such as those filled with empty calories, saturated fats, and sodium.
Finally, the Guidelines recommend that you follow food safety recommendations when cooking and eating foods to reduce your risk of foodborne illness. The How to Eat Healthy page has more tips for food safety.