Federal Dietary Recommendations
While everyone needs nutrients, people require varying amounts depending on gender, age, activity level, health status, and other factors. The federal government has taken this into consideration when developing recommended intakes. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines and MyPyramid provide individualized nutrition recommendations for a healthy diet.
Published every five years, the Dietary Guidelines are the government’s best advice to Americans on how to eat to promote health and prevent chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, and some cancers. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines also emphasize engaging in ample physical activity and decreasing caloric consumption for weight control. Following are the major points in each of the key topic areas:
- Adequate nutrients within calorie needs: The Guidelines encourage Americans to choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and limit foods high in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt, and alcohol. The food choices should be distributed within a balanced eating plan such as MyPyramid. This strategy allows Americans to get all of the nutrients the body needs without exceeding caloric requirements.
- Weight management: The key to weight control is to balance caloric intake from food and beverages with caloric expenditure. Most adults tend to gradually gain weight with age. For adults to prevent weight gain, the Guidelines suggest a 50- to 100-calorie decrease in intake each day combined with 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Those trying to lose weight should aim for a 500-calorie deficit per day achieved through decreased caloric intake and/or increased physical activity. For optimal long-term success and overall health, gradual weight loss is best. To keep the weight off, people may need to engage in physical activity for 60 to 90 minutes per day.
- Physical activity: All Americans are encouraged to be active and reduce sedentary behaviors. To prevent disease, people should engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week. More or higher-intensity activity will lead to even greater health benefits and help to prevent weight gain. A balanced physical-activity program includes cardiovascular, resistance, and flexibility training.
- Food groups to encourage: Fiber-dense fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are the staples of a healthy diet. Americans should aim to consume nine total servings of fruits (2 cups, or four servings) and vegetables (2.5 cups, or five servings) each day for a standard 2,000-calorie diet. A colorful variety of fruits and vegetables will optimize vitamin, mineral, and phytochemical intake. Also, the Guidelines encourage Americans to consume three or more servings of whole grains daily to meet fiber requirements and three or more cups per day of low-fat milk (or equivalent) products to assure adequate calcium intake.
- Fats: The Guidelines advise Americans to eat less than 10% of calories from artery-clogging saturated fat and less than 300 mg/day of cholesterol. Trans fat, now included on the nutrition label, should be avoided since, like saturated fat, it causes atherosclerosis. Ideally, fat intake should contribute 25 to 30% of daily caloric intake, with the majority of fat from polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat (fish, nuts, vegetable oils). To minimize unhealthy fat intake, fitness professionals can encourage clients and class participants to choose lean meat or poultry, dry beans, or low-fat or fat-free milk products.
- Carbohydrates: Fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are optimal sources of carbohydrate. The Guidelines encourage all Americans to limit added sugars and caloric sweeteners, which contain little nutritional value; practice good oral hygiene; and eat sugar-laden foods less often to prevent dental caries.
- Sodium and potassium: To prevent hypertension, people should consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (1 teaspoon salt). In general, fast food, canned food, and frozen dinners contain an abundance of salt and should be avoided in favor of foods with little salt.
- Alcoholic beverages: The Guidelines encourage people to drink in moderation, if at all (one drink per day for women; two drinks per day for men). While a moderate intake of alcohol helps prevent cardiovascular disease, people who do not drink are not encouraged to begin in an effort to realize these benefits. The Guidelines emphasize that people who cannot control intake, pregnant women, children, and those on medications that interact with alcohol should avoid alcoholic beverages. Individuals interested in weight management should also be aware that alcohol contains 7 calories per gram.
- Food safety: Nearly 76 million people in the United States become ill each year from foodborne illnesses. Special populations most at risk include pregnant women, infants and young children, older adults, and people who are immunocompromised. The majority of foodborne illnesses are preventable with a few simple precautions, such as frequent handwashing; maintaining clean kitchen counters; separating raw, cooked, and ready-to-eat foods while shopping; cooking foods to a safe temperature to kill microorganisms; refrigerating leftovers within two hours and defrosting foods properly; and avoiding unpasteurized milk products, raw eggs, and raw or undercooked meat. Refer to www.fightbac.org or www.foodsafety.gov for more information.
MyPyramid is an interactive online tool (www.MyPyramid.gov) designed to replace the well-known but poorly adopted 1992 Food Guide Pyramid. The significance of each component of the MyPyramid symbol is described in Figure 1. The goal of the Pyramid is to provide updated guidelines based on the latest scientific research and to offer consumers an online feature to personalize dietary guidelines in accordance with their individual needs and lifestyle. MyPyramid tailors nutrition advice to individual caloric needs. For example, consumers can go to www.MyPyramid.gov to calculate their estimated energy expenditure based on their age, gender, and typical amount of physical activity. Within seconds, users will be categorized into one of 12 different energy levels (anywhere from 1,000 to 3,200 calories) and will be given the recommended number of servings—measured in cups and ounces—to eat from each of the seven food groups. A set number of discretionary calories (i.e., the leftover calories available for sugar or additional fats or an extra serving from any of the food groups) will also be allocated for that individual. By following these recommendations, users will have the optimal diet for disease prevention and weight maintenance based on their personalized needs.
In general, MyPyramid encourages people to consume:
- Mostly whole grains as opposed to refined sugars
- Ample nutrient-dense dark green and orange vegetables such as broccoli and carrots rather than disproportionate amounts of starchy vegetables like white potatoes and corn, which contain fewer vitamins and minerals
- A variety of fruits, preferably from the whole-food sources, as opposed to fruit juices
- Oils in moderation with an emphasis on mono- or polyunsaturated fats instead of trans or saturated fats
- Low- or non-fat milk products, as opposed to regular whole-milk products
- Lean meat and bean products, instead of higher-fat meats such as regular (75 to 80% lean) ground beef or chicken with the skin
View a PDF of the Anatomy of MyPyramid
The website has a variety of online tools, including the following:
- MyPyramid Menu Planner: Users can input their anticipated food intake for the day and the menu planner will size up their plan compared with the MyPyramid recommendations. The planner provides users with a daily, weekly, and family menu report.
- MyPyramid Plan: Provides an estimate of what and how much food to eat, based on the user’s age, gender, and activity level
- MyPyramid Tracker: Cites detailed information on the quality of an individual’s diet and his or her physical-activity status
- Inside MyPyramid: Provides in-depth data for every food group, including recommended daily amounts
- Tips and Resources: Offers a variety of suggestions to eat healthier and be more active, incorporate more physical activity into a health-conscious lifestyle, as well as how to eat healthier in various situations (Table 1)
- MyPyramid for Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Provides information on the government’s best advice on nutrition during pregnancy and lactation
- MyPyramid for Preschoolers: Offers tips and advice for raising a healthy 2- to 4-year old
Dietary Reference Intakes
In the past, Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) were published for the different nutrients based on age and gender. The RDAs were defined as “the levels of intake of essential nutrients that, on the basis of scientific knowledge, are judged by the Food and Nutrition Board to be adequate to meet the known needs of practically all healthy persons.” New reference values, known as Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs), are more descriptive. DRI is a generic term used to refer to three types of reference values:
- Estimated Average Requirement (EAR), an adequate intake in 50% of an age- and gender-specific group
- Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL), the maximum intake that is unlikely to pose risk of adverse health effects to almost all individuals in an age- and gender-specific group
The term adequate intake (AI) is used when a RDA cannot be based on an EAR. Adequate intake is a recommended nutrient intake level that based on research appears to be sufficient for good health.
DRIs have been established for calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, magnesium, and fluoride; folate and other B vitamins; antioxidants (vitamins C and E, selenium); macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, fat); trace elements (vitamin A and K, iron, zinc); and electrolytes and water. The complete set of DRIs is available at www.iom.edu.