Boiling down the dietary guidelines

The dietary guidelines call for more veggies and less salt, fat and sugar. Here's what that means for you.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

In an environment that promotes high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods with a more sedentary lifestyle, too many Americans are regularly eating too many calories. Hence, the obesity epidemic and related health problems such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The good news is that a large body of evidence shows that healthy-eating patterns and regular physical activity can help people achieve and maintain good health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

The recommendations

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide five overarching recommendations:

  • Follow a healthy-eating pattern. A healthy-eating pattern and an appropriate calorie level will help you get the nutrition you need, achieve and maintain a healthy weight, and reduce your risk of chronic diseases.
  • Focus on variety, nutrient density and amount. To meet your nutrient needs and stay within your calorie limit, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across all food groups. Nutrient-dense foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
  • Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, and cut back on sodium. Follow an eating pattern that is low in added sugars, saturated fats and sodium.
  • Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across all food groups in place of less healthy choices.
  • Support healthy-eating patterns for all. Everyone has a responsibility for supporting healthy-eating in all settings, such as at home, work or school, or wherever food is available.

What is a healthy-eating pattern?

A healthy-eating pattern is one that includes:

  • A variety of vegetables — dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy and other
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt and cheese, and fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds and soy products
  • Oils, including those from plants, and those that occur naturally in nuts, seeds, seafood, olives and avocados

What is a nutrient-dense food?

A nutrient-dense food is one that provides vitamins, mineral and other substances that have health benefits, with relatively few calories. Nutrient-dense foods have little or no added sugars and fats. Nutrient-dense foods also minimize or exclude added salt or other ingredients high in sodium. Ideally, they're in forms that retain naturally occurring components such as dietary fiber.

Nutrient-dense foods include all vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans and peas, unsalted nuts and seeds, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and lean meats and poultry — when prepared with little or no added solid fats, sugars, refined starches, and sodium.

Where do I need to cut back?

Most U.S. adults and children eat too much sodium and too many calories from saturated fat and added sugars. Even if you aren't overweight or obese, consuming too much sodium, saturated fat and added sugars increases your risk of heart disease and other health problems.

A healthy eating pattern limits saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars and sodium. Staying below the specified limits for these components can help you achieve a healthy eating pattern that stays within your calorie limit:

  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories a day from added sugars.
  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories a day from saturated fats.
  • Consume less than 2,300 mg a day of sodium.
  • If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed only by adults of legal drinking age and in moderation — up to 1 drink a day for women and up to 2 drinks a day for men.

Make a healthy shift

Using the dietary guidelines as your map, choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages from all the food groups to meet your nutritional needs, protect your health, and help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Feb. 07, 2019 See more In-depth

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