These guidelines are designed to help answer this question. They provide advice for healthy Americans age 2 years and over about food choices that promote health and prevent disease. To meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, choose a diet with most of the calories from grain products, vegetables, fruits, low fat milk products, lean meats, fish, poultry, and dry beans. Choose fewer calories from fats and sweets.
Food choices depend on history, culture, and environment, as well as on energy and nutrient needs. People also eat foods for enjoyment. Family, friends, and beliefs play a major role in the ways people select foods and plan meals. This booklet describes some of the many different and pleasurable ways to combine foods to make healthful diets.
Many genetic, environmental, behavioral, and cultural factors can affect health. Understanding family history of disease or risk factors -- body weight and fat distribution, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol, for example -- can help people make more informed decisions about actions that can improve health prospects. Food choices are among the most pleasurable and effective of these actions.
Healthful diets help children grow, develop, and do well in school. They enable people of all ages to work productively and feel their best. Food choices also can help to reduce the risk for chronic diseases, such as heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, stroke, and osteoporosis, that are leading causes of death and disability among Americans. Good diets can reduce major risk factors for chronic diseases -- factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol.
People require energy and certain other essential nutrients. These nutrients are essential because the body cannot make them and must obtain them from food. Essential nutrients include vitamins, minerals, certain amino acids, and certain fatty acids. Foods also contain other components such as fiber that are important for health. Although each of these food components has a specific function in the body, all of them together are required for overall health. People need calcium to build and maintain strong bones, for example, but many other nutrients also are involved.
The carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in food supply energy, which is measured in calories. Carbohydrates and proteins provide about 4 calories per gram. Fat contributes more than twice as much -- about 9 calories per gram. Alcohol, although not a nutrient, also supplies energy -- about 7 calories per gram. Foods that are high in fat are also high in calories. However, many low fat or nonfat foods can also be high in calories.
Calorie needs vary by age and level of activity. Many older adults need less food, in part due to decreased activity, relative to younger, more active individuals. People who are trying to lose weight and eating little food may need to select more nutrient-dense foods in order to meet their nutrient needs in a satisfying diet. Nearly all Americans need to be more active, because a sedentary lifestyle is unhealthful. Increasing the calories spent in daily activities helps to maintain health and allows people to eat a nutritious and enjoyable diet.
Healthful diets contain the amounts of essential nutrients and calories needed to prevent nutritional deficiencies and excesses. Healthful diets also provide the right balance of carbohydrate, fat, and protein to reduce risks for chronic diseases, and are a part of a full and productive lifestyle. Such diets are obtained from a variety of foods that are available, affordable, and enjoyable.
Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) represent the amounts of nutrients that are adequate to meet the needs of most healthy people. Although people with average nutrient requirements likely eat adequately at levels below the RDAs, diets that meet RDAs are almost certain to ensure intake of enough essential nutrients by most healthy people. The Dietary Guidelines describe food choices that will help you meet these recommendations. Like the RDAs, the Dietary Guidelines apply to diets consumed over several days and not to single meals or foods.
The Dietary Guidelines are designed to help Americans choose diets that will meet nutrient requirements, promote health, support active lives, and reduce chronic disease risks. Research has shown that certain diets raise risks for chronic diseases. Such diets are high in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt and they contain more calories than the body uses. They are also low in grain products, vegetables, fruit, and fiber. This bulletin helps you choose foods, meals, and diets that can reduce chronic disease risks.
The Food Guide Pyramid and the Nutrition Facts Label serve as educational tools to put the Dietary Guidelines into practice. The Pyramid translates the RDAs and the Dietary Guidelines into the kinds and amounts of food to eat each day. The Nutrition Facts Label is designed to help you select foods for a diet that will meet the Dietary Guidelines. Most processed foods now include nutrition information. However, nutrition labels are not required for foods like coffee and tea (which contain no significant amounts of nutrients), certain ready-to-eat foods like unpackaged deli and bakery items, and restaurant food. Labels are also voluntary for many raw foods -- your grocer may supply this information for the fish, meat, poultry, and raw fruits and vegetables that are consumed most frequently. Use the Nutrition Facts Label to choose a healthful diet.