8 Nutritional Guidelines: Carbohydrates, Fats, and Proteins

A healthy diet can reduce the risk of major chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and some cancers.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 provides evidence-based nutrition information and advice for people age 2 and older. They serve as the basis for Federal food and nutrition education programs.
They emphasize three major goals for Americans:

  • Balance calories with physical activity to manage weight
  • Consume more of certain foods and nutrients such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and seafood
  • Consume fewer foods with sodium (salt), saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, and refined grains

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 include 23 key recommendations for the general population and 6 additional key recommendations for specific population groups, such as pregnant women. The recommendations are intended to help people choose an overall healthy diet.

Dietary Guidelines recommendations traditionally have been intended for healthy Americans ages 2 years and older. However, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 is being released at a time of rising concern about the health of the American population. Poor diet and physical inactivity are the most important factors contributing to an epidemic of overweight and obesity affecting men, women, and children in all segments of our society. Even in the absence of overweight, poor diet and physical inactivity are associated with major causes of morbidity and mortality in the United States. Therefore, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 is intended for Americans ages 2 years and older, including those at increased risk of chronic disease.

Poor diet and physical inactivity are the most important factors contributing to an epidemic of overweight and obesity in this country. The most recent data indicate that 72 percent of men and 64 percent of women are overweight or obese, with about one-third of adults being obese. Even in the absence of overweight, poor diet and physical inactivity are associated with major causes of morbidity and mortality. These include cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and some types of cancer. Some racial and ethnic population groups are disproportionately affected by the high rates of overweight, obesity, and associated chronic diseases. These diet and health associations make a focus on improved nutrition and physical activity choices ever more urgent. These associations also provide important opportunities to reduce health disparities through dietary and physical activity changes.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 also recognizes that in recent years nearly 15 percent of American households have been unable to acquire adequate food to meet their needs. This dietary guidance can help them maximize the nutritional content of their meals. Many other Americans consume less than optimal intake of certain nutrients even though they have adequate resources for a healthy diet. This dietary guidance and nutrition information can help them choose a healthy, nutritionally adequate diet. The intent of the Dietary Guidelines is to summarize and synthesize knowledge about individual nutrients and food components into an interrelated set of recommendations for healthy eating that can be adopted by the public.

Taken together, the Dietary Guidelines recommendations encompass two over-arching concepts:

Maintain calorie balance over time to achieve and sustain a healthy weight.

  • People who are most successful at achieving and maintaining a healthy weight do so through continued attention to consuming only enough calories from foods and beverages to meet their needs and by being physically active. To curb the obesity epidemic and improve their health, many Americans must decrease the calories they consume and increase the calories they expend through physical activity.

Focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages.

  • Americans currently consume too much sodium and too many calories from solid fats, added sugars, and refined grains. These replace nutrient-dense foods and beverages and make it difficult for people to achieve recommended nutrient intake while controlling calorie and sodium intake. A healthy eating pattern limits intake of sodium, solid fats, added sugars, and refined grains and emphasizes nutrient-dense foods and beverages;vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, and nuts and seeds. A basic premise of the Dietary Guidelines is that nutrient needs should be met primarily through consuming foods. In certain cases, fortified foods and dietary supplements may be useful in providing one or more nutrients that otherwise might be consumed in less than recommended amounts.

A healthy eating pattern needs to not only to promote health and help to decrease the risk of chronic diseases, but it also should prevent foodborne illness. Four basic food safety principles (Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill) work together to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. In addition, some foods (such as milks, cheeses, and juices that have not been pasteurized, and undercooked animal foods) pose high risk for foodborne illness and should be avoided.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans key recommendations are the most important in terms of their implications for improving public health.

To get the full benefit, individuals should carry out the Dietary Guidelines recommendations in their entirety as part of an overall healthy eating pattern.

DIETARY GUIDELINES FOR AMERICANS, 2010

Individuals should meet the following recommendations as part of a healthy eating pattern while staying within their calorie needs.

  • Increase vegetable and fruit intake. Eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green and red and orange vegetables and beans and peas.
  • Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. Increase whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains.
  • Increase intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverages.
  • Choose a variety of protein foods, which include seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds. Increase the amount and variety of seafood consumed by choosing seafood in place of some meat and poultry. Replace protein foods that are higher in solid fats with choices that are lower in solid fats and calories and/or are sources of oils.
  • Use oils to replace solid fats where possible. Choose foods that provide more potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D, which are nutrients of concern in American diets. These foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and milk and milk products.

Balancing Calories to Manage Weight

  • Prevent and/or reduce overweight and obesity through improved eating and physical activity behaviors. Control total calorie intake to manage body weight. For people who are overweight or obese, this will mean consuming fewer calories from foods and beverages.
  • Increase physical activity and reduce time spent in sedentary behaviors. Maintain appropriate calorie balance during each stage of life; childhood, adolescence, adulthood, pregnancy and breastfeeding, and older age.
  • Reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. The 1,500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, including children, and the majority of adults.
  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids by replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol. Keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fats, such as partially hydrogenated oils, and by limiting other solid fats. Reduce the intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars.
  • Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium.
  • If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men and only by adults of legal drinking age.

Foods and Food Components to Reduce

  • Reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. The 1,500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, including children, and the majority of adults.
  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids by replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
  • Consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol.
  • Keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fats, such as partially hydrogenated oils, and by limiting other solid fats.
  • Reduce the intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars.
  • Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium.
  • If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men—and only by adults of legal drinking age.

Building Healthy Eating Patterns

  • Select an eating pattern that meets nutrient needs over time at an appropriate calorie level.
  • Account for all foods and beverages consumed and assess how they fit within a total healthy eating pattern.
  • Follow food safety recommendations when preparing and eating foods to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.

Learning Activity

Watch this video titled: MyPlate: Understanding the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans (28 minutes)
Films Media Group, 2011. Films On Demand.

The old USDA Food Pyramid has been replaced with MyPlate, a new generation guide to healthy eating. This change was made to make nutritional guidelines easier to understand and to emphasize following a balanced diet.

  • Does MyPlate help you to better understand nutritional guidelines?

Recommendations for Specific Population Groups

Women capable of becoming pregnant

  • Choose foods that supply heme iron, which is more readily absorbed by the body, additional iron sources, and enhancers of iron absorption such as vitamin C-rich foods.
  • Consume 400 micrograms (mcg) per day of synthetic folic acid (from fortified foods and/or supplements) in addition to food forms of folate from a varied diet.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding

  • Consume 8 to 12 ounces of seafood per week from a variety of seafood types.
  • Due to their high methyl mercury content, limit white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces per week and do not eat the following four types of fish: tilefish, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel.
  • If pregnant, take an iron supplement, as recommended by an obstetrician or other health care provider. Individuals ages 50 years and older Consume foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as fortified cereals, or dietary supplements.

Building Healthy Eating Patterns

  • Select an eating pattern that meets nutrient needs over time at an appropriate calorie level.
  • Account for all foods and beverages consumed and assess how they fit within a total healthy eating pattern.
  • Follow food safety recommendations when preparing and eating foods to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.
  • Reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.

Individuals ages 50 years and older

  • Consume foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as fortified cereals, or dietary supplements.

Children

Children are a particularly important focus of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans because of the growing body of evidence documenting the vital role that optimal nutrition plays throughout the lifespan. Today, too many children are consuming diets with too many calories and not enough nutrients and are not getting enough physical activity. Approximately 32 percent of children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 years are overweight or obese, with 17 percent of children being obese. In addition, risk factors for adult chronic diseases are increasingly found in younger ages. Eating patterns established in childhood often track into later life, making early intervention on adopting healthy nutrition and physical activity behaviors a priority. 81.1 million Americans, 37 percent of the population, have cardiovascular disease.

Diet-related Chronic Disease

Major risk factors include high levels of blood cholesterol and other lipids, type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), metabolic syndrome, overweight and obesity, physical inactivity, and tobacco use. 16 percent of the U.S. adult population has high 14 total blood cholesterol.

Cardiovascular Disease

81.1 million Americans—37 percent of the 13 population—have cardiovascular disease. Major risk factors include high levels of blood cholesterol and other lipids, type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), metabolic syndrome, overweight and obesity, physical inactivity, and tobacco use. 16 percent of the U.S. adult population has high 14 total blood cholesterol.

Hypertension

74.5 million Americans, 34 percent of U.S. 15 adults, have hypertension. Hypertension is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease. Dietary factors that increase blood pressure include excessive sodium and insufficient potassium intake, overweight and obesity, and excess alcohol consumption. 36 percent of American adults have prehypertension, blood pressure numbers that are higher than normal, but not yet in the 16 hypertension range. Nearly 24 million people, almost 11 percent of the population, ages 20 years and older have diabetes. The vast majority of cases are type 2 diabetes, which is heavily influenced by diet and physical activity. About 78 million Americans, 35 percent of the U.S. adult population ages 20 years or 18older, have pre-diabetes. Pre-diabetes (also called impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose) means that blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be called diabetes.

Cancer

Almost one in two men and women, approximately 41 percent of the population, will be 19 diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime.Dietary factors are associated with risk of some types of cancer, including breast (post-menopausal), endometrial, colon, kidney, mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus.

Osteoporosis

One out of every two women and one in four men ages 50 years and older will have an 20 osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime. About 85 to 90 percent of adult bone mass is acquired by the age of 18 in girls and the age 21of 20 in boys.

Optional Learning Activity

Implement a nutritionally healthy workplace (e.g., form a potluck lunch group that emphasizes health foods; organize an event where people can taste test a variety of healthy foods that they may not have ever eaten before such as kale)

Food Safety Advice

Clean: Wash Hands and Surfaces Often

Bacteria can be spread throughout the kitchen and get onto hands, cutting boards, utensils, counter tops, and food. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom or changing diapers. Wash your hands after playing with pets or visiting petting zoos. Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food. Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels wash them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Rub firm-skinned fruits and vegetables under running tap water or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water. Keep books, backpacks, or shopping bags off the kitchen table or counters where food is prepared or served.

Separate: Don’t Cross Contaminate

Cross-contamination is how bacteria can be spread. When handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs, keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods. Always start with a clean scene ― wash hands with warm water and soap. Wash cutting boards, dishes, countertops, and utensils with hot soapy water. Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags, and in your refrigerator. Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Use a food thermometer, which measures the internal temperature of cooked meat, poultry, and egg dishes, to make sure that the food is cooked to a safe internal temperature.

Cook: Cook to Proper Temperatures

Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods.

  • Use a food thermometer, which measures the internal temperature of cooked meat, poultry, and egg dishes, to make sure that the food is cooked to a safe internal temperature.
  • Cook beef roasts and steaks to a safe minimum internal temperature of 145°F. Cook pork to a minimum of 160°F. All poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F throughout the bird, as measured with a food thermometer.
  • Cook ground meat to 160°F. Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) links eating undercooked ground beef with a higher risk of illness. Remember, color is not a reliable indicator of doneness. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of your burgers.
  • Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm, not runny. Don’t use recipes in which eggs remain raw or only partially cooked. Casseroles and other dishes containing eggs should be cooked to 160°F.
  • Cook fish to 145°F or until the flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork.
  • Make sure there are no cold spots in food (where bacteria can survive) when cooking in a microwave oven. For best results, cover food, stir and rotate for even cooking. If there is no turntable, rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking.
  • Bring sauces, soups and gravy to a boil when reheating. Heat other leftovers thoroughly to 165°F.
  • Use microwave-safe cookware and plastic wrap when cooking foods in a microwave oven.

Chill: Refrigerate Promptly!

Refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Do not over-stuff the refrigerator. Cold air must circulate to help keep food safe. Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 40°F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure the temperature is consistently 40°F or below. The freezer temperature should be 0°F or below.

  • Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, and other perishables as soon as you get them home from the store.
  • Never let raw meat, poultry, eggs, cooked food, or cut fresh fruits or vegetables sit at room temperature more than two hours before putting them in the refrigerator or freezer (one hour when the temperature is above 90°F).
  • Never defrost food at room temperature. Food must be kept at a safe temperature during thawing. There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave using the defrost setting. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
  • Always marinate food in the refrigerator.
  • Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator.
  • Use or discard refrigerated food on a regular basis.

Some food is safe without a cold source. Items that don’t require refrigeration include whole fruits and vegetables, hard cheese, unopened canned meat and fish, chips, breads, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, mustard, and pickles.

Use an insulated container to keep food like soup, chili, and stew hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. Keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to keep the food hot —140°F or above.

Show Sources

Sources

Source: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2010.asp

Recommendations for Specific Population Groups: Recommendations for Specific Population Groups, USDA, http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DietaryGuidelines.htm

Diet-related Chronic Disease: Diet-related Chronic Disease, USDA, http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuidelines/2010/PolicyDoc/Chapter1.pdf

Food Safety Advice: Food Safety Advice, http://www.choosemyplate.gov/healthy-eating-tips/food-safety-advice.html

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Contemporary Health Issues by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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