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

See also

  1. MIND diet may cut Alzheimer's risk
  2. 3 diet changes women over 50 should make right now
  3. 3 key changes in the new Nutrition Facts label
  4. Healthy-eating habits
  5. Reduce sugar in your diet
  6. Acai berries
  7. Added sugar
  8. Alcohol use
  9. Alkaline water
  10. Are energy drinks bull?
  11. Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes
  12. Autism spectrum disorder and digestive symptoms
  13. Bad food habits at work? Get back on track in 5 easy steps
  14. Best oil for cooking?
  15. Boost your calcium levels without dairy? Yes you can!
  16. Breast-feeding nutrition: Tips for moms
  17. Caffeine: How much is too much?
  18. Is caffeine dehydrating?
  19. Calorie calculator
  20. The role of diet and exercise in preventing Alzheimer's disease
  21. Can whole-grain foods lower blood pressure?
  22. Carbohydrates
  23. Chart of high-fiber foods
  24. Cholesterol: Top foods to improve your numbers
  25. Coconut water: Healthy drink or marketing scam?
  26. Coffee and health
  27. Diet and overactive bladder
  28. Diet soda: How much is too much?
  29. Dietary fats
  30. Dietary fiber
  31. Prickly pear cactus
  32. Does soy affect breast cancer risk?
  33. Don't get tricked by these 3 heart-health myths
  34. Don't go cuckoo for coconut water
  35. Make healthy snack choices
  36. Eat more of these key nutrients
  37. Eating well with COPD
  38. Eggs: Bad for cholesterol?
  39. Energy drinks
  40. Fat grams
  41. For a healthy gut, feed the good bugs
  42. Fiber: Soluble or insoluble?
  43. Fish and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
  44. Fit more fiber into your diet
  45. Foods for healthy skin
  46. Grape juice health benefits
  47. Is chocolate healthy?
  48. Healthy heart for life: Avoiding heart disease
  49. Healthy-eating tip: Don't forget fiber
  50. High-fructose corn syrup
  51. High-protein diets
  52. Alcohol during the holidays: 4 ways to sip smarter
  53. Holiday weight: How to maintain, not gain
  54. Takeout containers
  55. Is there more to hydration than water?
  56. Juicing is no substitute for whole foods
  57. Juicing
  58. Depression and diet
  59. Limit bad fats, one step at a time
  60. Make food labels required reading
  61. Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  62. MUFAs
  63. Multigrain vs. whole grain
  64. Need a snack? Go nuts!
  65. Need more fiber? Take 3 steps
  66. Nutrition Facts label
  67. Nutrition rules that will fuel your workout
  68. Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health
  69. Omega-3 in fish
  70. Omega-6 fatty acids
  71. Phenylalanine
  72. Play it safe when taking food to a loved one in the hospital
  73. Protein: Heart-healthy sources
  74. Healthy eating plans
  75. Raw water: Risky fad?
  76. Reduce sugar in your diet
  77. Health foods
  78. Portion control
  79. Planning healthy meals
  80. High-fiber diet
  81. Social eating can be healthy and enjoyable
  82. Sodium
  83. Sodium: Look beyond the saltshaker
  84. Stevia
  85. Tap water or bottled water: Which is better?
  86. Taurine in energy drinks
  87. Time to cut back on caffeine?
  88. Time to scale back on salt?
  89. Trans fat
  90. Underweight: Add pounds healthfully
  91. Want a healthier dinnertime? Science says change your eating space
  92. Daily water requirement
  93. Functional foods
  94. What is a good ileostomy diet?
  95. What is clean eating?
  96. What's considered moderate alcohol use?
  97. What's the difference between juicing and blending?
  98. Why does diet matter after bariatric surgery?
  99. Working out? Remember to drink up
  100. Yerba mate