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Dietary Guidelines

NutritionWhat we eat is a crucial part of staying healthy. About half of all American adults have one or more preventable, diet-related chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and overweight and obesity. (Read about "Coronary Heart Disease" "Diabetes" "Obesity") However, a large body of evidence now shows that healthy eating patterns and regular physical activity can help people achieve and maintain good health and reduce the risk of chronic disease. Every five years, the federal government, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), issues dietary guidelines. The latest edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, takes a holistic view of nutrition. It is the basis of federal food programs and nutrition education programs.

Previous editions of the Dietary Guidelines focused primarily on individual dietary components such as food groups and nutrients. However, people do not eat food groups and nutrients in isolation but rather in combination, and the totality of the diet forms an overall eating pattern. The components of the eating pattern can have a big effect on health. People's eating patterns can be tailored to their preferences, enabling Americans to choose the diet that is right for them.

A growing body of research has examined the relationship between overall eating patterns, health, and risk of chronic disease, and findings on these relationships are sufficiently well established to support dietary guidance.

So, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines provide five overarching guidelines that encourage healthy eating patterns, and also recognize that individuals will need to make shifts in their food and beverage choices to achieve a healthy pattern. The guidelines also embody the idea that a healthy eating pattern is not a rigid prescription, but rather, an adaptable framework in which individuals can enjoy foods that meet their personal, cultural, and traditional preferences and fit within their budget.

The Guidelines

Here are the five main principles:

Key Recommendations

The guidelines expand on each of these five principals with what are called key recommendations.

The Dietary Guidelines' Key Recommendations for healthy eating patterns should be applied in their entirety, given the interconnected relationship that each dietary component can have with others.

The idea is to consume a healthy eating pattern that accounts for all foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level.

According to the recommendations, a healthy eating pattern includes:

Key Recommendations are provided for several things you should avoid or limit in your diet. These components are of particular public health concern in the United States, and the specified limits can help individuals achieve healthy eating patterns within calorie limits:

The recommendations suggest people limit themselves to the following:

Nutrition Facts labels of packaged foods and from other sources can be used to check exactly what is in the food you are eating. (Read about "Food Labels")


Americans should aim to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. The relationship between diet and physical activity contributes to calorie balance and managing body weight. In tandem with the recommendations above, Americans of all ages - children, adolescents, adults, and older adults - should meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans to help promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease. (Read about "Getting Started on Fitness")

An underlying premise of the Dietary Guidelines is that nutritional needs should be met primarily from foods. All forms of foods, including fresh, canned, dried, and frozen, can be included in healthy eating patterns. Foods in nutrient-dense forms contain essential vitamins and minerals and also dietary fiber and other naturally occurring substances that may have positive health effects. (Read about "Vitamins & Minerals" "Fiber & Health") In some cases, fortified foods and dietary supplements may be useful in providing one or more nutrients that otherwise may be consumed in less-than-recommended amounts.

My Plate

MyPlateThe MyPlate symbol is used to help promote healthy eating patterns. It is meant to encourage consumers to make healthy food choices in appropriate proportions. The MyPlate icon emphasizes the fruit, vegetable, grains, protein and dairy food groups.

The colors used on the MyPlate graphic are:

The MyPlate icon also makes use of proportionality. The various sizes of the sections suggest how much food a person should choose from each group. The sizes are just a general guide, not exact proportions.

All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.

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