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Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Guide to Healthy Eating and Calorie-Intake Using Food Pyramid
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Official Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Food Pyramid

Food Guide Pyramid - What is it?

The Food Guide Pyramid is an outline of what to eat each day. It's not a rigid prescription, but a general guide that lets you choose a healthful diet that's right for you. The Food Pyramid calls for eating a variety of foods to get the nutrients you need and at the same time the right amount of calories to maintain or improve your weight. The Food Pyramid also focuses on fat because most Americans diets are too high in fat, especially saturated fat.

Click: Food Guide Pyramid

Use the Food Pyramid to help you eat better every day...the Dietary Guidelines way. Start with plenty of breads, cereals, rice, pasta, vegetables, and fruits. Add 2-3 servings from the milk group and 2-3 servings from the meat group. Remember to go easy on fats, oils, and sweets, the foods in the small tip of the Pyramid. The Food Guide Pyramid emphasizes foods from the five major food groups shown in the three lower sections of the Pyramid. Each of these food groups provides some, but not all, of the nutrients you need. Foods in one group can't replace those in another. No one food group is more important than another - for good health, you need them all.

General Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Eating

1. Eat a variety of foods to get the energy, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber you need for good health.

2. Balance the food you eat with physical activity - maintain or improve your weight to reduce you chances of having high blood pressure, heart disease, a stroke, certain cancers, and the most common kind of diabetes.

3. Choose a diet with plenty of grain products, vegetables, and fruits which provide needed vitamins, minerals, fiber, and complex carbohydrates, and can help you lower your intake of fat.

4. Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol to reduce your risk of heart attack and certain types of cancer and to help you maintain a healthy weight.

5. Choose a diet moderate in sugars. A diet with lots of sugars has too many calories and too few nutrients for most people and can contribute to tooth decay.

6. Choose a diet moderate in salt and sodium to help reduce your risk of high blood pressure.

7. If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation. Alcoholic beverages supply calories, but little or no nutrients. Drinking alcohol is also the cause of many health problems and accidents and can lead to addiction.

Breakdown of the Food Guide Pyramid Dietary Guidelines

Bread, Cereal, Rice, & Pasta Group - 6-11 Servings

  • To get the fiber you need, choose several servings a day of foods made from whole grains.
  • Choose most often foods that are made with little fat or sugars, like bread, english muffins, rice, and pasta.
  • Go easy on the fat and sugars you add as spreads, seasonings, or toppings.
  • When preparing pasta, stuffing, and sauce from packaged mixes, use only half the butter or margarine suggested; if milk or cream is called for, use low fat milk.

Fruit Group - 2-4 Servings

  • Choose fresh fruits, fruit juices, and frozen, canned, or dried fruit. Go easy on fruits canned or frozen in heavy syrups and sweetened fruit juices.
  • Eat whole fruits often--they are higher in fiber than fruit juices.
  • Count only 100 percent fruit juice as fruit. Punches and most fruit "drinks" contain only a little juice and lots of added sugars.

Vegetable Group - 3-5 Servings

  • Different types of vegetables provide different nutrients. Eat a variety.
  • Include dark-green leafy vegetables and legumes several times a week--they are especially good sources of vitamins and minerals. Legumes also provide protein and can be used in place of meat.
  • Be careful with the fat you add to vegetables at the table or during cooking. Added spreads or toppings, such as butter, mayonnaise, and salad dressing, count as fat.

Meat, Poultry, Fish - 2-3 Servings

  • Choose lean meat, poultry without skin, fish, and dry beans and peas often. they are the choices lowest in fat.
  • Prepare meats in low fat ways:

    1. Trim away all the fat you can see.
    2. Remove skin from poultry.
    3. Broil, roast, or boil these foods instead of frying them.
    4. Nuts and seeds are high in fat, so eat them in moderation.

Milk, Yogurt, & Cheese - 2-3 Servings

  • Choose skim milk and nonfat yogurt often. They are lowest in fat.
  • 1 1/2 to 2 ounces of cheese and 8 ounces of yogurt count as a serving from this group because they supply the same amount of calcium as 1 cup of milk.
  • Choose "part skim" or low fat cheeses when available and lower fat milk desserts, like ice milk or frozen yogurt. Read labels.

Fats, Oils, & Sweets - Use Sparingly

  • Go easy on fats and sugars added to foods in cooking or at the table--butter, margarine, gravy, salad dressing, sugar, and jelly.
  • Choose fewer foods that are high in sugars - candy, sweet desserts, and soft drinks.
  • The most effective way to moderate the amount of fat and added sugars in your diet is to cut down on "extras" (foods in this group). Also choose lower fat and lower sugar foods from the other five food groups often.

How Many Servings of Food Should I Have?

The Food Guide Pyramid shows a range of servings for each major food group. The number of servings that are right for you depends on how many calories you need, which in turn depends on your age, sex, size, and how active you are. Almost everyone should have at least the lowest number of servings in the ranges. The calorie level suggestions are based on recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences and on calorie intakes reported by people in national food consumption surveys.

For Adults and Teens

  • 1,600 calories is about right for many sedentary women and some older adults.
  • 2,200 calories is about right for most children, teenage girls, active women, and many sedentary men. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may need somewhat more.
  • 2,800 calories is about right for teenage boys, many active men, and some very active women.

TABLE 1. Sample Diet at Three Different Calorie Levels

Food Group 1600
Calorie Diet
Calorie Diet
Calorie Diet
Grains 6 servings 9 servings 11 servings
Vegetables 3 servings 4 servings 5 servings
Fruits 2 servings 3 servings 4 servings
Dairy/Milk 2-3 servings 2-3 servings 2-3 servings
Meats (ounces) 5oz 6oz 7oz
Total Fat (30%) 53g 73g 93g
Total Added Sugars 6 tsp 12 tsp 18 tsp

Different Foods in the Food Guide Pyramid Dietary Guidelines

FATS - Dietary Guidelines

The Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans limit fat in their diets to 30 percent of calories. This amounts to 53 grams of fat in a 1,600-calorie diet, 73 grams of fat in a 2,200-calorie diet, and 93 grams of fat in a 2,800-calorie diet.

You will get up to half this fat even if you pick the lowest fat choice from each good group and add no fat to your foods in preparation or at the table.

You decide how to use the additional fat in your daily diet. You may want to have foods from the five major food groups that are higher in fat - such as whole milk instead of skim milk. Or you may want to use it in cooking or at the table in the form of spreads, dressings, or toppings.

If you want to be sure you have a low fat diet, you can count the grams of fat in your day's food choices using the Pyramid Food Choices Chart, and compare them to the number of grams of fat suggested for you calorie level.

You don't need to count fat grams every day, but doing a fat checkup once in awhile will help keep you on the right track. If you find you are eating too much fat, choose lower fat foods more often.

You can figure the number of grams of fat that provide 30% of calories in your daily diet as follow:

A. Multiply your total day's calories by 0.30 to get your calories from fat per day. Example: 2,200 calories x 0.30 = 660 calories from fat.

B. Divide calories from fat per day by 9 (each gram of fat has 9 calories) to get grams of fat per day. Example: 660 calories from fat ÷ 9 = 73 grams of fat.

Eating too much saturated fat raises blood cholesterol levels in many people, increasing their risk for heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting saturated fat to less than 10 percent of calories, or about on-third of total fat intake.

All fats in foods are mixtures of three types of fatty acids - saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated.

Saturated fats are found in largest amounts in fats from meat and dairy product and in some vegetables fats such as coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils.

Monounsaturated fats are found mainly in olive, peanut, and canola oils.

Polyunsaturated fats are found mainly in safflower, sunflower, corn, soybean, and cottonseed oils and some fish.

Choose fat from a variety of food sources, but mostly from those foods that are higher in polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat.

Just so you know, cholesterol and fat are not the same thing. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance present in all animal foods - meat, poultry, fish, milk and milk products, and egg yolks. Both the lean and fat of meat and the meat and skin of poultry contain cholesterol. In milk products, cholesterol is mostly in the fat, so lower fat products contain less cholesterol. Egg yolks and organ meats, like liver, are high in cholesterol. Plant foods do not contain cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol, as well as saturated fat, raises blood cholesterol levels in many people, increasing their risk for heart disease. Some health authorities recommend that dietary cholesterol be limited to an average of 300 mg or less per day. To keep dietary cholesterol to this level, follow the Food Guide Pyramid, keeping your total fat to the amount that's right for you. It's not necessary to eliminate all foods that are high in cholesterol. You can have three to four egg yolks a week, counting those used as ingredients in custards and baked products. Use lower fat dairy products often and occasionally include dry beans and peas in place of meat.

SUGARS - Dietary Guidelines

Choosing a diet low in fat is a concern for everyone; choosing one low in sugars is also important for people who have low calorie needs. Sugars include white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, corn syrup, honey, and molasses; these supply calories and little else nutritionally.

To avoid getting too many calories from sugars, try to limit your added sugars to 6 teaspoons a day if you eat about 1,600 calories, 12 teaspoons at 2,200 calories, or 18 teaspoons at 2,800 calories. These amounts are intended to be averages over time. The patterns are illustrations of healthful proportions in the diet, not rigid prescriptions.

Added sugars are in foods like candy and soft drinks, as well as jams, jellies, and sugars you add at the table. Some added sugars are also in foods from the food groups, such as fruit canned in heavy syrup and chocolate milk.

SALT & SODIUM - Dietary Guidelines

Some health authorities say that sodium intake should not be more than 2,400 mg. Nutrition labels also list a Daily Value (upper limit) of 2,400 mg per day of sodium. Much of the sodium in people's diets comes from salt they add while cooking and at the table. (One teaspoon of salt provides about 2, 000 mg of sodium.)

Be careful with salt and foods that are high in sodium, including cured meats, luncheon meats, and many cheeses, most canned soups and vegetables, and soy sauce. Try to find lower salt and no-salt-added versions of these products at your supermarket.

BREADS, CEREALS, RICE, PASTA - Dietary Guidelines

These foods provide complex carbohydrates (starches), which are an important source of energy, especially in low fat diets. They also provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The Food Guide Pyramid suggests 6 to 11 servings of these foods a day.

What Counts as a Serving?

-1 slice of bread
-1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal
-1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice, or pasta

VEGETABLES - Dietary Guidelines

Vegetables provide vitamins, such as vitamins A and C, and folate, and minerals, such as iron and magnesium. They are naturally low in fat and also provide fiber. The Food Guide Pyramid suggests 3 to 5 servings of these foods a day.

Different types of vegetables provide different nutrients. For variety eat:

  • Dark-green leafy vegetables (spinach, romaine lettuce, broccoli)
  • Deep-yellow vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes)
  • Starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, peas)
  • Legumes (navy, pinto, and kidney beans, chickpeas)
  • Other vegetables (lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green beans)

Include dark-green leafy vegetables and legumes several times a week - they are especially good sources of vitamins and minerals. Legumes also provide protein and can be used in place of meat. Go easy of the fat you add to vegetables at the table or during cooking. Added spreads or toppings, such as butter, mayonnaise, and salad dressing, count as fat. Use low fat salad dressing.

What Counts as a Serving?

-1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
-1/2 cup of other vegetables, cooked or chopped raw
-3/4 cup of vegetable juice

FRUITS - Dietary Guidelines

Fruit and fruit juices provide important amounts of vitamins A and C and potassium. They are low in fat and sodium. The Food Guide Pyramid suggests 2 to 4 servings of fruits a day.

What Counts as a Serving?

-Medium apple, banana, or orange
-1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
-3/4 cup of fruit juice


Meat, poultry, and fish supply protein, B vitamins, iron, and zinc. The other foods in this group - dry beans, eggs, and nuts - are similar to meats in providing protein and most vitamins and minerals. The Food Guide Pyramid suggests 2 to 3 servings each day of foods from this group. The total amount of these servings should be the equivalent of 5 to 7 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish per day.

What Counts as a Serving?

-2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish as a serving. A 3-ounce piece of meat is about the size of an average hamburger, or the meat on a medium chicken breast half.
- 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans or 1 egg as 1 ounce of lean meat.
-2 tablespoons of peanut butter or 1/3 cup of nuts count as 1 ounce of meat

MILK, YOGURT, CHEESE - Dietary Guidelines

Milk products provide protein, vitamins, and minerals. Milk, yogurt, and cheese are the best source of calcium. The Food Guide Pyramid suggests 2 to 3 servings of milk, yogurt, and cheese a day - 2 for most people, and 3 for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, teenagers, and young adults to age 24.

What Counts as a Serving?

-1 cup of milk or yogurt
-1-1/2 ounces of natural cheese
-2 ounces of process cheese

ALCOHOL - Dietary Guidelines

If you choose to drink, you should have no more that 1 to 2 drinks a day. Alcoholic beverages provide calories, but little to no nutrients.

Food Pyramid Guidelines - Conclusion

From A to Z - apricots to zucchini, adzuki beans to ziti - every food fits into the Food Guide Pyramid! The Pyramid is meant for all healthy people from age two on up. It offers practical advice to enjoy the diverse array of foods available in today's marketplace. With its five food groups, the Pyramid has many kinds of foods that promote health. Chosen carefully, all foods can be part of your healthful eating style. Follow the Pyramid's advice. You'll consume the nutrients and energy you need...without too many calories, or too much fat, cholesterol, or sugars. Enjoy different foods within each food group. Even similar foods differ in their nutrition content. That's another reason for making food variety part of your eating style! Enjoy your favorite foods and your favorite places to eat. After all, no foods or meals are "good" or "bad." The foods you choose for the whole day, even several days, are what counts. Eat at least the lowest number of servings recommended for each food group daily. And enjoy just a bit from the Pyramid tip.

Futher information:
U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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