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What's the Best Nutrition Advice?

It's following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These are seven guidelines for a healthy diet - advice for Americans 2 years of age or more. By following the Dietary Guidelines, you can enjoy better health and reduce your chances of getting certain diseases. These Guidelines, developed jointly by USDA and HHS, are the best, most up-to-date advice from nutrition scientists and are the basis of Federal nutrition policy.

The Dietary Guidelines For Americans

Eat a variety of foods to get the energy, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber you need for good health.

Balance the food you eat with physical activity - maintain or improve your weight to reduce you chances of having high blood pressure, heart disease, a stroke, certain cancers, and the most common kind of diabetes.

Choose a diet with plenty of grain products, vegetables, and fruits which provide needed vitamins, minerals, fiber, and complex carbohydrates, and can help you lower your intake of fat. Make sure to prefer organic!

Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol to reduce your risk of heart attack and certain types of cancer and to help you maintain a healthy weight.

Choose a diet moderate in sugars. A diet with lots of sugars has too many calories and too few nutrients for most people and can contribute to tooth decay.

Choose a diet moderate in salt and sodium to help reduce your risk of high blood pressure.

If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation. Alcoholic beverages supply calories, but little or no nutrients. drinking alcohol is also the cause of many health problems and accidents and can lead to addiction.

What is the Food Guide Pyramid?

The Food Guide Pyramid is an outline of what to eat each day. It's not a rigid prescription, but a general guide that lets you choose a healthful diet that's right for you.

The Food Guide Pyramid calls for eating a variety of foods to get the nutrients you need and at the same time the right amount of calories to maintain or improve your weight.

The Food Guide Pyramid also focuses on fat because most Americans diets are too high in fat, especially saturated fat.

Looking at the Pieces of the Pyramid

The Food Guide Pyramid emphasizes foods from the five major food groups shown in the three lower sections of the Food Pyramid. Each of these food groups provides some, but not all, of the nutrients you need. Foods in one group can't replace those in another. No one food group is more important than another - for good health, you need them all.

The small tip of the Pyramid shows fats, oils, and sweets. These are foods such as salad dressings and oils, cream, butter, margarine, sugars, soft drinks, candies, and sweet desserts. These foods provide calories and little else nutritionally. Most people should use them sparingly.

On this level of the Food Pyramid are two groups of foods that come mostly from animals: milk, yogurt, cheese; and meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts. These foods are for protein, calcium, iron, and zinc.

This level includes foods that come from plants - vegetables and fruits. Most people need to eat more of these foods for the vitamins, minerals, and fiber they supply.

At the base of the Food Guide Pyramid are breads, cereals, rice, and pasta - all foods from grains. You need the servings of these foods each day.

A Closer Look at Fat and Added Sugars

As you can see, fat and sugars are concentrated in foods from the Pyramid tip - fats, oils, and sweets. These foods supply calories, and little or no vitamins and minerals. By using these foods sparingly, you can have a diet that supplies needed vitamins and minerals without excess calories.

Some fat or sugar symbols are shown in the food groups. That's to remind you that some food choices in these food groups can also be high in fat or added sugars. When choosing foods for a healthful diet, consider that fat and added sugars in your choices from the food groups, as well as the fats, oils, and sweets from the Pyramid tip.


In general, foods that come from animals (milk and meat groups) are naturally higher in fat than foods that come from plants. But there are many low fat dairy and lean meat choices available, and these foods can be prepared in ways that lower fat.

Fruits, vegetables, and grain products are naturally low in fat. But many popular items are prepared with fat, like french-fried potatoes, or croissants, making them higher fat choices.

Fruits, vegetables, and grain products are naturally low in fat. But many popular items are prepared with fat, like french-fried potatoes, or croissants, making them higher fat choices.

For example:

One Baked Potato   14 French Fries

Calories: 120    Calories: 225

Fat: Trace     Fat: 11 grams

Added Sugars

These symbols represent sugars added to foods in processing or at the table, not the sugars found naturally in fruits and milk. It's the added sugars that provide calories with few vitamins and minerals.

Most of the added sugars in the typical American diet come from foods in the Pyramid tip - soft drinks, candy, jams, jellies, syrups, and table sugar we add to foods like coffee or cereal.

Added sugars in the food groups come from foods such as ice cream, sweetened yogurt, chocolate milk, canned or frozen fruit with heavy syrup, an sweetened bakery products like cakes and cookies. The chart on page 16 shows you the amounts of added sugars in some popular foods. You may be surprised!

Fat and Sugar Tips:

» Choose lower fat foods from the food groups most often.
» Go easy on fats and sugars added to foods in cooking or at the table - butter, margarine, gravy, salad dressing, sugar, and jelly.
» Choose fewer foods that are high in sugars - candy, sweet desserts, and soft drinks.

How many servings are right for me?

The Pyramid shows a range of servings for each major food group. The number of servings that are right for you depends on how many calories you need, which in turn depends on your age, sex, size, and how active you are. Almost everyone should have at least the lowest number of servings in the ranges.

The calorie level suggestions are based on recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences and on calorie intakes reported by people in national food consumption surveys.

1,600 calories is about right for many sedentary women and some older adults.
2,200 calories is about right for most children, teenage girls, active women, and many sedentary men. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may need somewhat more.
2,800 calories is about right for teenage boys, many active men, and some very active women.

Grain Group Servings 6 9 11
Vegetable Group Servings 3 4 5
Fruit Group Servings 2 3 4
Milk Group Servings 2-3 2-3 2-3
Meat Group (ounces) 5 6 7
Total Fat (grams) 53 73 93
Total Added Sugars (teaspoons) 6 12 18
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, teenagers, and young adults to age 24 need 3 servings.
Meat group amounts are in total ounces.
For young children

It is hard to know how much food children need to grow normally. If you're unsure, check with your doctor. Preschool children need the same variety of foods as older family members do, but may need less than 1, 600 calories. For fewer calories they can eat smaller servings. However, it is important that they have the equivalent of 2 cups of milk a day.

For You

Now, take a look at the table below. It tells you how many servings you need for your calorie level. For example, if you are an active woman who needs about 2, 200 calories a day, 9 servings of breads, cereals, rice, or pasta would be right for you. You'd also want to eat about 6 ounces of meat or alternates per day. Keep total fat (fat in the foods you choose as well as fat used in cooking or added at the table) to about 73 grams per day.

If you are between calorie categories, estimate servings. For example, some less active women may need only 2, 000 calories to maintain a healthy weight. At that calorie level, 8 servings from the grain group would be about right.


The amount of food that counts as a serving is listed on the next page. If you eat a larger portion, count it as more than one serving. For example, 1/2 cup of cooked pasta counts as one serving in the bread, cereal, rice, and pasta group. If you eat 1 cup of pasta, that would be two servings. If you eat a smaller portion, count it as part of a serving.

Isn't 6 to 11 servings of breads and cereals a lot?

It may sound like a lot, but it's really not. For example, a slice of bread is one serving, so a sandwich for lunch would equal two servings. A small bowl of cereal and one slice of toast for breakfast are two more servings. And it you have a cup of rice or pasta at dinner, that's two more servings. A snack of 3 or 4 small plain crackers adds yet another serving. So now you've had 7 servings. It adds up quicker than you think!


It depends on your calorie needs. The Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans limit fat in their diets to 30 percent of calories. This amounts to 53 grams of fat in a 1,600-calorie diet, 73 grams of fat in a 2,200-calorie diet, and 93 grams of fat in a 2,800-calorie diet.

You will get up to half this fat even if you pick the lowest fat choice from each good group and add no fat to your foods in preparation or at the table.
You decide how to use the additional fat in your daily diet. You may want to have foods from the five major food groups that are higher in fat--such as whole milk instead of skim milk. Or you may want to use it in cooking or at the table in the form of spreads, dressings, or toppings.


Cholesterol and fat are not the same thing.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance present in all animal foods - meat, poultry, fish, milk and milk products, and egg yolks. Both the lean and fat of meat and the meat and skin of poultry contain cholesterol. In milk products, cholesterol is mostly in the fat, so lower fat products contain less cholesterol. Egg yolks and organ meats, like liver, are high in cholesterol. Plant foods do not contain cholesterol.

Dietary cholesterol, as well as saturated fat, raises blood cholesterol levels in many people, increasing their risk for heart disease. Some health authorities recommend that dietary cholesterol be limited to an average of 300 mg or less per day. To keep dietary cholesterol to this level, follow the Food Guide Pyramid, keeping your total fat to the amount that's right for you.

It's not necessary to eliminate all foods that are high in cholesterol. You can have three to four egg yolks a week, counting those used as ingredients in custards and baked products. Use lower fat dairy products often and occasionally include dry beans and peas in place of meat.


Food Groups Added Sugars (teaspoons)
Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta
Bread, 1 slice   0
Muffin, 1 medium x 1
Cookies, 2 medium x 1
Danish pasty, 1 medium x 1
Doughnut, 1 medium xx 2
Ready-to-eat cereal, sweetened, 1 oz. x *
Pound cake, no-fat, 1 oz. xx 2
Angelfood cake, 1/12 tube cake xxxxx 5
Cake, frosted, 1/16 average xxxxxx 6
Pie, fruit, 2 crust, 1/6 8" pie xxxxxx 6
Fruit, canned in juice, 1/2 cup   0
Fruit, canned in light syrup, 1/2 cup xx 2
Fruit, canned in heavy syrup, 1/2 cup xxxx 4
Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese
Milk, plain, 1 cup   0
Chocolate milk, 2 percent, 1 cup xxx 3
Lowfat yogurt, plain, 8 oz.   0
Lowfat, yogurt, flavored, 8 oz. xxxxx 5
Lowfat yogurt, fruit, 8 oz. xxxxxxx 7
Ice Cream, ice milk, frozen yogurt 1/2 cup xxx 3
Chocolate shake, 10 fl. oz. xxxxxxxxx 9
Sugar, jam, or jelly, 1 tsp. x 1
Syrup or honey, 1 tbsp. xxx 3
Chocolate bar, 1 oz. xxx 3
Fruit sorbet, 1/2 cup xxx 3
Gelatin dessert, 1/2 cup xxxx 4
Sherbet, 1/2 cup xxxxx 5
Cola, 12 fl. oz. xxxxxxxxx 9
Fruit drink, ade, 12 fl. oz. xxxxxxxxxxxx 12
* Check product label. x = 1 teaspoon sugar
Note: 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon

What about sugars?

Choosing a diet low in fat is a concern for everyone; choosing one low in sugars is also important for people who have low calorie needs. Sugars include white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, corn syrup, honey, and molasses; these supply calories and little else nutritionally.

To avoid getting too many calories from sugars, try to limit your added sugars to 6 teaspoons a day if you eat about 1,600 calories, 12 teaspoons at 2,200 calories, or 18 teaspoons at 2,800 calories. These amounts are intended to be averages over time. The patterns are illustrations of healthful proportions in the diet, not rigid prescriptions.

Added sugars are in foods like candy and soft drinks, as well as jams, jellies, and sugars you add at the table. Some added sugars are also in foods from the food groups, such as fruit canned in heavy syrup and chocolate milk. The chart on the left shows the approximate amount of sugars in some popular foods.

Salt and Sodium

Do I have to give up salt?

No. But most people eat more than they need. some health authorities say that sodium intake should not be more than 2,400 mg. Nutrition labels also list a Daily Value (upper limit) of 2,400 mg per day of sodium. Much of the sodium in people's diets comes from salt they add while cooking and at the table. (One teaspoon of salt provides about 2, 000 mg of sodium.)

Go easy on salt and foods that are high in sodium, including cured meats, luncheon meats, and many cheeses, most canned soups and vegetables, and soy sauce. Look for lower salt and no-salt-added versions of these products at your supermarket.

The table below will give you an idea of the amount of sodium in different types of foods. Information on food labels can also help you make food choices to keep sodium moderate.


Food Groups Sodium, mg
Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta
Cooked cereal, rice, pasta, unsalted, 1/2 cup Trace
Ready-to-eat cereal, 1 oz. 100-360
Bread, 1 slice 110-175
Popcorn, salted, 1 oz. 100-460
Pretzels, slated, 1 oz. 130-880
Vegetables, fresh or frozen, cooked without salt, 1/2 cup Less than 70
Vegetables, canned or frozen with sauce, 1/2 cup 140-460
Tomato juice, canned, 3/4 cup 660
Vegetable soup, canned, 1 cup 820
Fruit, fresh, frozen, canned, 1/2 cup Trace
Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese
Milk, 1 cup 120
Yogurt, 8 oz. 160
Natural cheeses, 1-1/2 oz. 110-450
Process cheeses, 2 oz. 800
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts
Fresh meat, poultry, fish, 3 oz. Less than 90
Tuna, canned, water pack, 3 oz. 300
Bologna, 2 oz. 580
Ham, lean, roasted, 3 oz. 1,020
Peanuts, roasted in oil, salted, 1 oz. 120
Salad dressing, 1 tbsp 1
Ketchup, mustard, steak sauce, 1 tbsp. 3
Soy sauce, 1 tbsp. 3
Salt, 1 tsp. 3
Dill pickle, 1 medium 4


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