Where to ramp up

Although a wide variety of nutritious foods are available in the U.S., Americans don't eat enough vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and milk and milk products. As a result, dietary intakes of several nutrients — potassium, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamin D — are low enough to be of public health concern for both adults and children.

The best way to get enough of these and other nutrients, while still controlling calories, is to consume foods in nutrient-dense forms.

Nutrient-dense foods provide vitamins, mineral and other substances that have health benefits, with relatively few calories. They're lean or low in solid fats, and minimize or exclude added solid fats, sugars and refined starches, as these add calories but few essential nutrients or dietary fiber.

Nutrient-dense foods also minimize or exclude added salt or other compounds high in sodium. Ideally, they are in forms that retain naturally occurring components such as dietary fiber.

All vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans and peas (legumes), and nuts and seeds that are prepared without added solid fats, sugars, starches and sodium are nutrient dense.

Boiling it down

So where do you start? The guidelines suggest starting with changes in these three areas:

Balancing calories

  • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  • Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to increase

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Limit meat to one-quarter of your plate — make it lean and choose fish or plant proteins more often.
  • Choose whole-grain products over processed grain products.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk.

Foods to reduce

  • Compare sodium in foods such as soup, bread and frozen meals — and choose the foods with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

Using the dietary guidelines as your map, you can make healthy choices that meet your nutritional needs, protect your health, and help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Feb. 02, 2013 See more In-depth