Many of us know we should eat better and move more. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services created dietary guidelines to help us incorporate healthful eating habits into our day. That's a good thing, too, with more than two-thirds of American adults and one-third of American children either overweight or obese.
The guidelines stress that eating healthy foods and getting regular exercise are important to meet our nutrient and calorie needs. Healthy eating also helps reduce the risk of developing some chronic diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. In some cases, it may also help manage the condition as well.
Here are some of the key highlights:
Eat a diet rich in plant-based foods
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. At meals, fill half your plate with a colorful variety of vegetables and fruits. Eating more fruits and vegetables may help reduce the risk of heart disease and help protect against some cancers. Make sure that whole grains make up at least half of all the grains you eat.
- Swap refined grains, such as white bread and white rice, with whole grains, such as 100 percent whole-wheat bread and brown rice.
Aim to eat a variety of lean protein foods
- This includes lean meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, unsalted nuts and seeds.
- Boost the amount of seafood you eat. Seafood includes fish, such as salmon, tuna, trout and tilapia, and shellfish, such as shrimp, crab and oysters. Seafood, specifically types that are high in omega-3 fats, has been shown to help protect against heart disease. Look for salmon, anchovies, herring, sardines, Pacific oysters, trout and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel.
- Pregnant women and young children should avoid tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel. Also limit white tuna to six ounces per week. The mercury content in these fish are not safe for pregnant women or young children.
Consume more fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products
- This includes milk, yogurt, cheese or fortified soy beverages.
Cut down on the added sugars and solid fats you consume
- Use olive, canola or safflower oil instead of butter, beef fat, chicken fat, lard, stick margarine and shortening. Other sources include soybean, corn and cottonseed oils. Trim fat from meats.
- Try to keep your trans-fatty acids intake as low as you can. Trans fats are in hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. They are used to make shortening, commercially prepared baked goods, snack foods and fried foods.
- Try to eat foods that have no or are low in added sugars.
- Try to eat less than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol a day.
Lower sodium intake
- Cut your sodium (salt) intake to less than 2,300 mg daily, the amount in about one teaspoon of salt. On average, Americans consume about 3,400 mg sodium a day.
- If you are 51 or older, try to get your sodium intake below 1,500 mg daily, or about 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt. This lower recommendation also applies to African-Americans of any age, and to anyone with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
- Check labels on prepared foods. Be aware when you dine out because restaurant foods are often high in sodium. Leave the salt shaker on the table whenever you can.
Limit sugary drinks and alcohol
- Drink water, coffee, tea, seltzer, diet or other low-calorie beverages.
- If you do drink alcohol, limit alcoholic drinks to up to one drink a day for women, and up to two drinks a day for men.
- Adults should aim to get least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, such as brisk walking, each week. Or you can aim for 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, which could include jogging or swimming laps, or a mix of the two types.
- Also try to get in strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups at least two days a week.
If you are physically inactive or have a chronic health condition such as arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. He or she can tell you what types of activities are safe and suitable for you.
The dietary guidelines are updated every five years. New guidelines are scheduled to be released in 2015.
Jane Schwartz Harrison, RD, contributed to this article.
Created on 01/25/2005
Updated on 09/10/2013
- Unites States Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 physical activity guidelines for Americans. Chapter 4: Active adults.
- Unites States Department of Agriculture. Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010.