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Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans
What Should Americans Eat to Stay Healthy?
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, lowfat milk products, lean meats, fish, poultry, and dry beans. Choose fewer calories from fats and sweets.
Eating is One of Life's Greatest Pleasures
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.
Diet is Important to Health at All Stages of Life
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.
Foods Contain Energy, Nutrients, and Other Components That Affect Health
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 lowfat or nonfat foods can also be high in calories.
Physical Activity Fosters a Healthful Diet
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.
What is a Healthful 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.
The Recommended Dietary Allowances Refer to Nutrients
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 Describe Food Choices That Promote Good Health
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.
Food Labels and the Food Guide Pyramid are Tools to Help You Make Food Choices
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.
Eat a Variety of Foods
Foods contain combinations of nutrients and other healthful
substances. No single food can supply all nutrients in the amounts you need. For
example, oranges provide vitamin C but no vitamin B12; cheese provides vitamin
B12 but no vitamin C. To make sure you get all of the nutrients and other
substances needed for health, choose the recommended number of daily servings
from each of the five major food groups in the Food Guide Pyramid.
Americans do choose a wide variety of foods. However, people
often choose higher or lower amounts from some food groups than suggested in the
Food Guide Pyramid. The Pyramid shows that foods from the grain products group,
along with vegetables and fruits, are the basis of healthful diets. Enjoy meals
that have rice, pasta, potatoes, or bread at the center of the plate,
accompanied by other vegetables and fruit, and lean and low-fat foods from the
other groups. Limit fats and sugars added in food preparation and at the table.
What Counts as a "Serving"?
Some of the serving
sizes are smaller than what you might usually eat. For example, many people eat
a cup or more of pasta in a meal, which equals two or more servings. So, it is
easy to eat the number of servings recommended.
You can achieve a healthful, nutritious eating pattern with many combinations of
foods from the five major food groups. Choosing a variety of foods within and
across food groups improves dietary patterns because foods within the same group
have different combinations of nutrients and other beneficial substances. For
example, some vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamin C or vitamin a,
while others are high in folate; still others
are good sources of calcium or iron. Choosing a variety of foods within each
group also helps to make your meals more interesting from day to day.
What About Vegetarian Diets?
Some Americans eat vegetarian diets for reasons of culture, belief, or health.
Most vegetarians eat milk products and eggs, and as a group, these
lacto-ovo-vegetarians enjoy excellent health. Vegetarian diets are consistent
with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and can meet Recommended
Dietary allowances for nutrients. You can get enough protein from a vegetarian
diet as long as the variety and amounts of foods consumed are adequate. Meat,
fish, and poultry are major contributors of iron, zinc, and B vitamins in most
american diets, and vegetarians should pay special attention to these nutrients.
Vegans eat only food of plant origin. Because animal products are the only food
sources of vitamin B12, vegans must supplement their diets with a source of this
vitamin. In addition, vegan diets, particularly those of children, require care
to ensure adequacy of vitamin D and calcium, which most Americans obtain from
Foods Vary in Their amounts of Calories and Nutrients
Some foods such as grain products, vegetables, and fruits have many nutrients
and other healthful substances but are relatively low in calories. Fat and
alcohol are high in calories. Foods high in both sugars and fat contain many
calories but often are low in vitamins, minerals, or fiber.
People who do not need many calories or who must restrict their food intake need
to choose nutrient-rich foods from the five major food groups with special care.
They should obtain most of their calories from foods that contain a high
proportion of essential nutrients and fiber.
Growing Children, Teenage Girls, and Women Have Higher Needs for Some Nutrients
Many women and adolescent girls need to
eat more calcium-rich foods to get the calcium needed for healthy bones
throughout life. By selecting lowfat or fat-free milk products and other lowfat
calcium sources, they can obtain adequate calcium and keep fat intake from being
too high. Young children, teenage girls, and
women of childbearing age should also eat enough iron-rich foods, such as lean
meats and whole-grain or enriched white bread, to keep the body's iron stores at
National policy requires that specified amounts of nutrients
be added to enrich some foods. For example, enriched flour and bread contain
added thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron; skim milk, lowfat milk, and
margarine are usually enriched with vitamin a; and milk is usually enriched with
vitamin D. Fortified foods may have one or several nutrients added in extra
amounts. The number and quantity of nutrients added vary among products.
Fortified foods may be useful for meeting special dietary needs. Read the
ingredient list to know which nutrients are added to foods. How these foods fit into your total diet will
depend on the amounts you eat and the other foods you consume.
Where Do Vitamin, Mineral, and Fiber Supplements Fit In?
Supplements of vitamins, minerals, or fiber also may help to meet special
nutritional needs. However, supplements do not supply all of the nutrients and
other substances present in foods that are important to health. Supplements of
some nutrients taken regularly in large amounts are harmful. Daily vitamin and
mineral supplements at or below the Recommended Dietary allowances are
considered safe, but are usually not needed by people who eat the variety of
foods depicted in the Food Guide Pyramid.
Sometimes supplements are needed to meet specific nutrient requirements. For
example, older people and others with little exposure to sunlight may need a
vitamin D supplement. Women of childbearing age may reduce the risk of certain
birth defects by consuming folate-rich foods or folic acid supplements. Iron
supplements are recommended for pregnant women. However, because foods contain
many nutrients and other substances that promote health, the use of supplements
cannot substitute for proper food choices.
Enjoy eating a variety of foods. Get the many nutrients your body needs by
choosing among the varied foods you enjoy from these groups: grain products,
vegetables, fruits, milk and milk products, protein-rich plant foods (beans,
nuts), and protein-rich animal foods (lean meat, poultry, fish, and eggs).
Remember to choose lean and lowfat foods and beverages most often. Many foods
you eat contain servings from more than one food group. For example, soups and
stews may contain meat, beans, noodles, and vegetables.
Balance the Food You Eat with Physical Activity -- Maintain or Improve Your Weight
Many Americans gain weight in adulthood, increasing their risk for high blood
pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain types of cancer, arthritis,
breathing problems, and other illness. Therefore, most adults should not gain
weight. If you are overweight and have one of these problems, you should try to
lose weight, or at the very least, not gain weight. If you are uncertain about
your risk of developing a problem associated with overweight, you should consult
a health professional.
How to Maintain Your Weight
In order to stay at the same body weight, people must
balance the amount of calories in the foods and drinks they consume with the
amount of calories the body uses. Physical activity is an important way to use
food energy. Most Americans spend much of their working day in activities that
require little energy. In addition, many Americans of all ages now spend a lot
of leisure time each day being inactive, for example, watching television or
working at a computer. To burn calories, devote less time to sedentary
activities like sitting. Spend more time in activities like walking to the store
or around the block. Use stairs rather than elevators. Less sedentary activity
and more vigorous activity may help you reduce body fat and disease risk. Try to
do 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity on most -- preferably all --
days of the week.
The kinds and amounts of food people eat affect their ability to maintain
weight. High-fat foods contain more calories per serving than other foods and
may increase the likelihood of weight gain. However, even when people eat less
high-fat food, they still can gain weight from eating too much of foods high in
starch, sugars, or protein. Eat a variety of foods, emphasizing pasta, rice,
bread, and other whole-grain foods as well as fruits and vegetables. These foods
are filling, but lower in calories than foods rich in fats or oils.
The pattern of eating may also be important. Snacks provide a large percentage
of daily calories for many Americans. Unless nutritious snacks are part of the
daily meal plan, snacking may lead to weight gain. A pattern of frequent
binge-eating, with or without alternating periods of food restriction, may also
contribute to weight problems.
Maintaining weight is equally important for older people who begin to lose
weight as they age. Some of the weight that is lost is muscle. Maintaining
muscle through regular activity helps to keep older people feeling well and
helps to reduce the risk of falls and fractures.
How to Evaluate Your Body Weight
Healthy weight ranges for adult men and women of all ages
are shown in. The health risks due to excess weight
appear to be the same for older as for younger adults. Weight ranges are shown
in the chart because people of the same height may have equal amounts of body
fat but different amounts of muscle and bone. However, the ranges do not mean
that it is healthy to gain weight, even within the same weight range. The higher
weights in the healthy weight range apply to people with more muscle and bone.
Weights above the healthy weight range are less healthy for most people. The
further you are above the healthy weight range for your height, the higher your
weight-related risk. Weights slightly below
the range may be healthy for some people but are sometimes the result of health
problems, especially when weight loss is unintentional.
Location of Body Fat
Research suggests that the location of body fat also is an important factor in
health risks for adults. Excess fat in the abdomen (stomach area) is a greater
health risk than excess fat in the hips and thighs. Extra fat in the abdomen is
linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, early heart disease, and certain types
of cancer. Smoking and too much alcohol increase abdominal fat and the risk for
diseases related to obesity. Vigorous exercise helps to reduce abdominal fat and
decrease the risk for these diseases. The easiest way to check your body fat
distribution is to measure around your waistline with a tape measure and compare
this with the measure around your hips or buttocks to see if your abdomen is
larger. If you are in doubt, you may wish to seek advice from a health
Problems With Excessive Thinness
Being too thin can occur with anorexia nervosa, other eating disorders, or loss
of appetite, and is linked to menstrual irregularity and osteoporosis in women,
and greater risk of early death in both women and men. Many people -- especially
women -- are concerned about body weight, even when their weight is normal.
Excessive concern about weight may cause or lead to such unhealthy behaviors as
excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting, and the abuse of laxatives or other
medications. These practices may only worsen the concern about weight. If you
lose weight suddenly or for unknown reasons, see a physician. Unexplained weight
loss may be an early clue to a health problem.
If You Need to Lose Weight
You do not need to lose weight if your weight is already
within the healthy range in the figure, if you have gained less than 10 pounds
since you reached your adult height, and if you are otherwise healthy. If you
are overweight and have excess abdominal fat, a weight-related medical problem,
or a family history of such problems, you need to lose weight. Healthy diets and
exercise can help people maintain a healthy weight, and may also help them lose
weight. It is important to recognize that overweight is a chronic condition
which can only be controlled with long-term changes. To reduce caloric intake,
eat less fat and control portion sizes. If you
are not physically active, spend less time in sedentary activities such as
watching television, and be more active throughout the day. As people lose
weight, the body becomes more efficient at using energy and the rate of weight
loss may decrease. Increased physical activity will help you to continue losing
weight and to avoid gaining it back.
Many people are not sure how much weight they should lose. Weight loss of only
5-10 percent of body weight may improve many of the problems associated with
overweight, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Even a smaller weight loss
can make a difference. If you are trying to lose weight, do so slowly and
steadily. A generally safe rate is 1/2-1 pound a week until you reach your goal.
Avoid crash weight-loss diets that severely restrict calories or the variety of
foods. Extreme approaches to weight loss, such as self-induced vomiting or the
use of laxatives, amphetamines, or diuretics, are not appropriate and can be
dangerous to your health.
Weight Regulation in Children
Children need enough food for proper growth. to promote growth and development
and prevent overweight, teach children to eat grain products; vegetables and
fruits; lowfat milk products or other calcium-rich foods; beans, lean meat,
poultry, fish or other protein-rich foods; and to participate in vigorous
activity. Limiting television time and encouraging children to play actively in
a safe environment are helpful steps. Although limiting fat intake may help to
prevent excess weight gain in children, fat should not be restricted for
children younger than 2 years of age. Helping overweight children to achieve a
healthy weight along with normal growth requires more caution. Modest reductions
in dietary fat, such as the use of lowfat milk rather than whole milk, are not
hazardous. However, major efforts to change a child's diet should be accompanied
by monitoring of growth by a health professional at regular intervals.
Try to maintain your body weight by balancing what you eat with physical
activity. If you are sedentary, try to become more active. If you are already
very active, try to continue the same level of activity as you age. More
physical activity is better than less, and any is better than none. If your
weight is not in the healthy range, try to reduce health risks through better
eating and exercise habits. Take steps to keep your weight within the healthy
range (neither too high nor too low). Have children's heights and weights
checked regularly by a health professional.
Choose a Diet With Plenty of Grain Products, Vegetables, and Fruits
Grain products, vegetables, and fruits are key parts of a varied diet. They are
emphasized in this guideline because they provide vitamins, minerals, complex
carbohydrates (starch and dietary fiber), and other substances that are
important for good health. They are also generally low in fat, depending on how
they are prepared and what is added to them at the table. Most Americans of all
ages eat fewer than the recommended number of servings of grain products,
vegetables, and fruits, even though consumption of these foods is associated
with a substantially lower risk for many chronic diseases, including certain
types of cancer.
Most of the calories in your diet should come from grain products, vegetables,
These include grain products high in complex carbohydrates -- breads, cereals,
pasta, rice -- found at the base of the Food Guide Pyramid, as well as
vegetables such as potatoes and corn. Dry beans (like pinto, navy, kidney, and
black beans) are included in the meat and beans group of the Pyramid, but they
can count as servings of vegetables instead of meat alternatives.
Plant Foods Provide Fiber
Fiber is found only in plant foods like whole-grain breads and cereals, beans
and peas, and other vegetables and fruits. Because there are different types of
fiber in foods, choose a variety of foods daily. Eating a variety of
fiber-containing plant foods is important for proper bowel function, can reduce
symptoms of chronic constipation, diverticular disease, and hemorrhoids, and may
lower the risk for heart disease and some cancers. However, some of the health
benefits associated with a high-fiber diet may come from other components
present in these foods, not just from fiber itself. For this reason, fiber is
best obtained from foods rather than supplements.
Plant Foods Provide a Variety of Vitamins and Minerals Essential For Health
Most fruits and vegetables are naturally
low in fat and provide many essential nutrients and other food components
important for health. These foods are excellent sources of vitamin C, vitamin
B6, carotenoids, including those which form vitamin A, and folate. The antioxidant nutrients
found in plant foods (e.g., vitamin C, carotenoids, vitamin E, and certain
minerals) are presently of great interest to scientists and the public because
of their potentially beneficial role in reducing the risk for cancer and certain
other chronic diseases. Scientists are also trying to determine if other
substances in plant foods protect against cancer.
Folate, also called folic acid, is a B vitamin that, among
its many functions, reduces the risk of a serious type of birth defects. Minerals such as potassium, found in a wide variety
of vegetables and fruits, and calcium, found in certain vegetables, may help
reduce the risk for high blood pressure.
The availability of fresh fruits and vegetables varies by season and region of
the country, but frozen and canned fruits and vegetables ensure a plentiful
supply of these healthful foods throughout the year. Read the Nutrition Facts
Label to help choose foods that are rich in carbohydrates, fiber, and nutrients,
and low in fat and sodium.
Eat more grain products (breads, cereals, pasta, and rice), vegetables, and
fruits. Eat dry beans, lentils, and peas more often. Increase your fiber intake
by eating more of a variety of whole grains, whole-grain products, dry beans,
fiber-rich vegetables and fruits such as carrots, corn, peas, pears, and berries.
Choose a Diet Low in Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol
Some dietary fat is needed for good health. Fats supply energy and essential
fatty acids and promote absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Most people are aware that high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol in the
diet are linked to increased blood cholesterol levels and a greater risk for
heart disease. More Americans are now eating less fat, saturated fat, and
cholesterol-rich foods than in the recent past, and fewer people are dying from
the most common form of heart disease. Still, many people continue to eat
high-fat diets, the number of overweight people has increased, and the risk of
heart disease and certain cancers (also linked to fat intake) remains high. This
guideline emphasizes the continued importance of choosing a diet with less total
fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
Foods High in Fat Should Be Used Sparingly
Some foods and food groups in the Food Guide Pyramid are higher in fat than
others. Fats and oils, and some types of desserts and snack foods that contain
fat provide calories but few nutrients. Many foods in the milk group and in the
meat and beans group (which includes eggs and nuts, as well as meat, poultry,
and fish) are also high in fat, as are some processed foods in the grain group.
Choosing lower fat options among these foods allows you to eat the recommended
servings from these groups and increase the amount and variety of grain
products, fruits, and vegetables in your diet without going over your calorie
Choose a Diet Low in Fat
Fat, whether from plant or animal
sources, contains more than twice the number of calories of an equal amount of
carbohydrate or protein. Choose a diet that provides no more than 30 percent of
total calories from fat. The upper limit on the grams of fat in your diet will
depend on the calories you need. Cutting back
on fat can help you consume fewer calories. For example, at 2,000 calories per
day, the suggested upper limit of calories from fat is about 600 calories.
Sixty-five grams of fat contribute about 600 calories (65 grams of fat x 9
calories per gram = about 600 calories). On the Nutrition Facts Label, 65 grams
of fat is the Daily Value for a 2,000-calorie intake.
Choose a Diet Low in Saturated Fat
Fats contain both saturated and unsaturated (monounsaturated and
polyunsaturated) fatty acids. Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol more than
other forms of fat. Reducing saturated fat to less than 10 percent of calories
will help you lower your blood cholesterol level. The fats from meat, milk, and
milk products are the main sources of saturated fats in most diets. Many bakery
products are also sources of saturated fats. Vegetable oils supply smaller
amounts of saturated fat. On the Nutrition Facts Label, 20 grams of saturated
fat (9 percent of caloric intake) is the Daily Value for a 2,000-calorie
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. Olive and canola oils are
particularly high in monounsaturated fats; most other vegetable oils, nuts, and
high-fat fish are good sources of polyunsaturated fats. Both kinds of
unsaturated fats reduce blood cholesterol when they replace saturated fats in
the diet. The fats in most fish are low in saturated fatty acids and contain a
certain type of polyunsaturated fatty acid (omega-3) that is under study because
of a possible association with a decreased risk for heart disease in certain
people. Remember that the total fat in the diet should be consumed at a moderate
level -- that is, no more than 30 percent of calories. Mono- and polyunsaturated
fat sources should replace saturated fats within this limit.
Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, such as those used in many margarines and
shortenings, contain a particular form of unsaturated fat known as trans-fatty
acids that may raise blood cholesterol levels, although not as much as saturated
Choose a Diet Low in Cholesterol
The body makes the cholesterol it requires. In addition,
cholesterol is obtained from food. Dietary cholesterol comes from animal sources
such as egg yolks, meat (especially organ meats such as liver), poultry, fish,
and higher fat milk products. Many of these foods are also high in saturated
fats. Choosing foods with less cholesterol and saturated fat will help lower
your blood cholesterol levels. The Nutrition
Facts Label lists the Daily Value for cholesterol as 300 mg. You can keep
your cholesterol intake at this level or lower by eating more grain products,
vegetables and fruits, and by limiting intake of high cholesterol foods.
advice for Children
Advice in the previous sections does not apply to infants and toddlers below the
age of 2 years. After that age, children should gradually adopt a diet that, by
about 5 years of age, contains no more than 30 percent of calories from fat. As
they begin to consume fewer calories from fat, children should replace these
calories by eating more grain products, fruits, vegetables, and lowfat milk
products or other calcium-rich foods, and beans, lean meat, poultry, fish, or
other protein-rich foods.
To reduce your intake of fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, follow these
recommendations, as illustrated in the Food Guide Pyramid, which apply to diets
consumed over several days and not to single meals or foods.
- Use fats and oils sparingly.
- Use the Nutrition Facts Label to help you choose foods lower in fat,
saturated fat, and cholesterol.
- Eat plenty of grain products, vegetables, and fruits.
- Choose lowfat milk products, lean meats, fish, poultry, beans, and peas to
get essential nutrients without substantially increasing calorie and saturated
Choose a Diet Moderate in Sugars
Sugars are carbohydrates. Dietary carbohydrates also include the complex
carbohydrates starch and fiber. During digestion all carbohydrates except fiber
break down into sugars. Sugars and starches occur naturally in many foods that
also supply other nutrients. Examples of these foods include milk, fruits, some
vegetables, breads, cereals, and grains. Americans eat sugars in many forms, and
most people like their taste. Some sugars are used as natural preservatives,
thickeners, and baking aids in foods; they are often added to foods during
processing and preparation or when they are eaten. The body cannot tell the
difference between naturally occurring and added sugars because they are
Sugars, Health, and Weight Maintenance
Scientific evidence indicates that diets high in sugars do not cause
hyperactivity or diabetes. The most common type of diabetes occurs in overweight
adults. Avoiding sugars alone will not correct overweight. To lose weight reduce
the total amount of calories from the food you eat and increase your level of
If you wish to maintain your weight when you eat less fat,
replace the lost calories from fat with equal calories from fruits, vegetables,
and grain products, found in the lower half of the Food Guide Pyramid. Some
foods that contain a lot of sugars supply calories but few or no nutrients. These foods are located at the top of the Pyramid.
For very active people with high calorie needs, sugars can be an additional
source of energy. However, because maintaining a nutritious diet and a healthy
weight is very important, sugars should be used in moderation by most healthy
people and sparingly by people with low calorie needs. This guideline cautions
about eating sugars in large amounts and about frequent snacks of foods and
beverages containing sugars that supply unnecessary calories and few nutrients.
Sugar substitutes such as sorbitol, saccharin, and aspartame are ingredients in
many foods. Most sugar substitutes do not provide significant calories and
therefore may be useful in the diets of people concerned about calorie intake.
Foods containing sugar substitutes, however, may not always be lower in calories
than similar products that contain sugars. Unless you reduce the total calories
you eat, the use of sugar substitutes will not cause you to lose weight.
Sugars and Dental Caries
Both sugars and starches can promote tooth decay. The more
often you eat foods that contain sugars and starches, and the longer these foods
are in your mouth before you brush your teeth, the greater the risk for tooth
decay. Thus, frequent eating of foods high in sugars and starches as
between-meal snacks may be more harmful to your teeth than eating them at meals
and then brushing. Regular daily dental hygiene, including brushing with a
fluoride toothpaste and flossing, and an adequate intake of fluoride, preferably
from fluoridated water, will help you prevent tooth decay.
Use sugars in moderation -- sparingly if your calorie needs are low. Avoid
excessive snacking, brush with a fluoride toothpaste, and floss your teeth
regularly. Read the Nutrition Facts Label on foods you buy. The food label lists
the content of total carbohydrate and sugars, as well as calories.
Choose a Diet Moderate in Salt and Sodium
Sodium and sodium chloride -- known commonly as salt -- occur naturally in
foods, usually in small amounts. Salt and other sodium-containing ingredients
are often used in food processing. Some people add salt and salty sauces, such
as soy sauce, to their food at the table, but most dietary sodium or salt comes
from foods to which salt has already been added during processing or
preparation. Although many people add salt to enhance the taste of foods, their
preference may weaken with eating less salt.
Sodium is associated With High Blood Pressure
In the body, sodium plays an essential role in regulation of fluids and blood
pressure. Many studies in diverse populations have shown that a high sodium
intake is associated with higher blood pressure. Most evidence suggests that
many people at risk for high blood pressure reduce their chances of developing
this condition by consuming less salt or sodium. Some questions remain, partly
because other factors may interact with sodium to affect blood pressure.
Other Factors affect Blood Pressure
Following other guidelines in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans may also help prevent high blood pressure. An important
example is the guideline on weight and physical activity. The role of body
weight in blood pressure control is well documented. Blood pressure increases
with weight and decreases when weight is reduced. The guideline to consume a
diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables is relevant because fruits and
vegetables are naturally lower in sodium and fat and may help with weight
reduction and control. Consuming more fruits and vegetables also increases
potassium intakes which may help to reduce blood pressure. Increased physical activity helps lower blood
pressure and control weight. Alcohol consumption has also been associated with
high blood pressure. Another reason to reduce salt intake is the fact that high
salt intakes may increase the amount of calcium excreted in the urine and,
therefore, increase the body's need for calcium.
Most Americans Consume More Salt Than Is Needed
Sodium has an important role in the body. However, most Americans consume more
sodium than is needed. The Nutrition Facts Label lists a Daily Value of
2,400 mg per day for sodium [2,400 mg sodium per day is contained in 6 grams of
sodium chloride (salt)]. In household measures, one level teaspoon of salt
provides about 2,300 milligrams of sodium. Most people consume more than this
There is no way at present to tell who might develop high
blood pressure from eating too much sodium. However, consuming less salt or
sodium is not harmful and can be recommended for the healthy normal adult.
Fresh fruits and vegetables have very little sodium. The food groups in the Food
Guide Pyramid include some foods that are high in sodium and other foods that
have very little sodium, or can be prepared in ways that add flavor without
adding salt. Read the Nutrition Facts Label to compare and help identify foods
lower in sodium within each group. Use herbs and spices to flavor food. Try to
choose forms of foods that you frequently consume that are lower in sodium and
If You Drink alcoholic Beverages, Do So in Moderation
Alcoholic beverages supply calories but few or no nutrients.
The alcohol in these beverages has effects that are harmful when consumed in
excess. These effects of alcohol may alter judgment and can lead to dependency
and a great many other serious health problems. Alcoholic beverages have been
used to enhance the enjoyment of meals by many societies throughout human
history. If adults choose to drink alcoholic beverages, they should consume them
only in moderation.
Current evidence suggests that moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk
for coronary heart disease in some individuals. However, higher levels of
alcohol intake raise the risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease,
certain cancers, accidents, violence, suicides, birth defects, and overall
mortality (deaths). Too much alcohol may cause cirrhosis of the liver,
inflammation of the pancreas, and damage to the brain and heart. Heavy drinkers
also are at risk of malnutrition because alcohol contains calories that may
substitute for those in more nutritious foods.
Who Should Not Drink?
Some people should not drink alcoholic beverages at all. These include:
- Children and adolescents.
- Individuals of any age who cannot restrict their drinking to moderate
levels. This is a special concern for recovering alcoholics and people whose
family members have alcohol problems.
- Women who are trying to conceive or who are pregnant. Major birth defects,
including fetal alcohol syndrome, have been attributed to heavy drinking by the
mother while pregnant. While there is no conclusive evidence that an occasional
drink is harmful to the fetus or to the pregnant woman, a safe level of alcohol
intake during pregnancy has not been established.
- Individuals who plan to drive or take part in activities that require
attention or skill. Most people retain some alcohol in the blood up to 2-3 hours
after a single drink.
- Individuals using prescription and over-the-counter medications. Alcohol may
alter the effectiveness or toxicity of medicines. Also, some medications may
increase blood alcohol levels or increase the adverse effect of alcohol on the
If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation, with meals, and when
consumption does not put you or others at risk.
Information provided by the (NIDDK) National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases