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Staying healthy in the 21st century

Key findings of the 2005 'Dietary Guidelines' of the USDA

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[JAN. 15, 2005]  The "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" report establishes the direction for all government nutrition programs, including research, education, food assistance, labeling and nutrition promotion. The official guidelines also provide the foundation for food and nutrition legislation and for the government's position in debating standards and reports such as Codex Alimentarius or the World Health Organization's global health report. The guidelines allow the government to speak with one voice when presenting advice for healthy Americans ages 2 years and over about making food choices that promote health and prevent disease. All federally issued dietary guidance for the general public is required to be consistent with the official dietary guidelines.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture jointly publish a report entitled "Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans" at least every five years. The fifth edition of "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" was released in May 2000.

In preparing the sixth edition, for 2005, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee concluded that the following nine recommendations incorporate its key scientific findings:
[For details, click on each item in the list.]

* * *

Details on each of the preceding nine recommendations are given below.

Food variety and nutrient intake

  • Most Americans need to increase their consumption of vitamin E, calcium, potassium and fiber.
  • Many Americans need to increase their intake of vitamins A and C and magnesium.
  • A few special nutrient recommendations apply to the elderly, women in the childbearing years and groups susceptible to vitamin D insufficiency:
    • Iron -- Women of childbearing age can reduce the risk of iron deficiency by eating foods high in iron -- preferably meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, or by consuming iron-rich plant foods.
    • Folic acid -- To reduce the risk of a pregnancy being affected by a neural tube defect, a daily intake of 400 micrograms of synthetic folic acid, from supplements or fortified food, is recommended for women who are capable of becoming pregnant and those in the first trimester of pregnancy.
    • Vitamin B12 -- The goal for those over age 50 is to eat foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as fortified breakfast cereals, or to take vitamin B12 supplements to achieve a B12 intake of at least 2.4 micrograms per day, which equals about 40 percent of the daily value expressed on food labels.
    • Vitamin D -- The elderly, people with dark skin and people exposed to insufficient ultraviolet blue radiation are at risk of being unable to maintain vitamin D status. People in these groups may need substantially more than the adequate intake, as established in 1997, for vitamin D from vitamin D-fortified foods or vitamin D supplements.

Energy balance and calorie control

  • Calories, carbohydrates, fats -- To stem the obesity epidemic, most Americans need to reduce the amount of calories they consume. When it comes to weight control, calories do count -- not the proportions of carbohydrate, fat and protein in the diet. The healthiest way to reduce calorie intake is to reduce one's intake of saturated fat, added sugars and alcohol; they all provide calories, but they don't provide essential nutrients. For most people, a reduction of 50 to 100 calories per day will prevent weight gain, but a reduction of 500 calories or more per day is a common goal in weight loss programs. Controlling portion sizes helps limit calorie intake, especially when eating energy-dense foods, that is, foods that are high in calories for a given amount.
  • Physical activity -- Thirty to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity per day is recommended to prevent weight gain, but 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity per day is recommended to sustain weight loss.

Physical activity

Thirty minutes of at least moderate physical activity on most days provides important health benefits in adults. More than 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days provides even more health benefits. Vigorous intensity physical activity, such as jogging or other aerobic exercise, provides greater benefits for physical fitness than moderate physical activity, and it burns more calories per unit time.

  • At least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days is recommended for children to maintain good health and fitness and for healthy weight during growth.
  • Short bouts -- 10 minutes, for example -- of moderate activity can count toward total physical activity goals.
  • During leisure time, it is advisable for all individuals to limit sedentary behaviors such as television watching and video viewing and replace them with activities that require more movement.


To decrease their risk of elevated an LDL cholesterol level, most Americans need to decrease their intakes of saturated fat and trans fat, and many need to decrease their dietary intake of cholesterol. Recommended goals are less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat and less than 300 mg of cholesterol per day for adults, with an LDL cholesterol level less than 130 milligrams per deciliter. Trans fat intakes should be about 1 percent of energy intake or less.

  • Saturated fats -- Saturated fat consumption should be kept as low as possible. Dietary intake of saturated fat is much higher than that of trans fat and cholesterol. Intakes of all three fats should be decreased; however, decreasing intake of saturated fat is most beneficial because it is consumed in greater amounts.

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  • Trans fats -- The committee recommended that trans fatty acid consumption by all population groups be no more than 1 percent of energy intake. Since trans fatty acids are produced in the hydrogenation of vegetable oils and account for more than 80 percent of total trans fat in the food supply, the food industry has a large role to play in helping consumers decrease their trans fat intake.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids -- To benefit from the potential cardio-protective effects of the fatty acids EPA and DHA, the committee recommended weekly consumption of two servings of fish, particularly fish rich in EPA and DHA. However, it is advisable for pregnant women, lactating women and children to avoid eating fish with a high mercury content and to limit their consumption of fish with a moderate mercury content. The report also stated that other rich food sources of EPA and DHA may be beneficial, although more research is needed.
  • Total fat -- Recommended total fat intake is between 20 percent and 35 percent of energy.


Recommended total carbohydrate intake is between 45 percent and 65 percent of energy. The Institute of Medicine set a recommended dietary allowance of 130 grams per day for adults and children.

  • Fiber intake -- Most Americans of all ages need to increase their fiber intake. The recommended intake of dietary fiber is 14 grams per 1,000 calories.
  • Sugar intake -- Reducing intake of added sugars, especially sugar-sweetened beverages, may be helpful in weight control and aid in achieving recommended nutrient intakes. A combined approach of reducing the frequency of consuming sugars and starches -- for example, limiting snacking on foods that contain these carbohydrates -- and optimizing oral hygiene practices is advised to reduce dental caries incidence.

Selected food groups

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and milk products are carbohydrate-containing foods, and they all are important to a healthy diet.

  • Fruit and vegetable intake -- To meet nutrient adequacy recommendation, a range of five to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables each day is recommended for daily energy intakes of 1,200-3,200 calories. For a 2,000-calorie daily energy intake, nine servings (4 cups) are recommended.
  • Whole grains intake -- The goal for whole grain intake is at least three servings (equal to 3 ounces) per day, preferably by eating whole grains in place of refined grains.
  • Milk intake -- For people who require 1,600 calories per day or more, the goal for milk and milk products is 3 cups of nonfat or low-fat milk or the equivalent per day. The goal is 2 cups per day for those with lower calorie needs.

Salt intake

  • Nearly all Americans consume substantially more salt than is recommended. Decreasing salt (sodium chloride) intake is advisable to reduce the risk of high blood pressure. Expressed in terms of sodium, the general goal is for adults to consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
  • Many people will benefit from reducing their salt intake even more. Such people include hypertensive individuals, blacks, and middle- and older-aged adults.
  • At the same time, individuals are encouraged to increase their consumption of foods rich in potassium. Potassium lowers blood pressure and blunts the effects of salt on blood pressure.
  • Since sodium added during the processing of foods provides more than three-fourths of total intake, the food industry has a large role to play in helping consumers decrease their sodium intake.

Alcohol intake

The consumption of alcohol can have beneficial or harmful effects depending on the amount consumed, the age and other characteristics of the person consuming the alcohol, and specific situations. The lowest all-cause and coronary heart disease mortality rates occur at an intake of one to two drinks per day. Morbidity and mortality are highest among those drinking large amounts of alcohol.

  • Those who choose to drink alcoholic beverages should do so sensibly and in moderation.
  • Abstention is an important option; approximately one in three American adults do not drink alcohol.
  • Moderation is defined as the consumption of up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. One drink is defined as 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine (12 percent alcohol) or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages should be avoided before or when driving or whenever it puts anyone at risk.
  • In some situations, alcohol should be avoided: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" added breast-feeding women to the list of examples.

Food safety

The most important food safety problem is microbial food-borne illness. The behaviors in the home that are most likely to prevent a problem with food-borne illnesses are:

  • Cleaning hands, contact surfaces, and fruits and vegetables. (This does not apply to meat and poultry, which should not be washed.)
  • Separating raw, cooked and ready-to-eat foods while shopping, preparing or storing.
  • Cooking foods to a safe temperature.
  • Chilling (refrigerating) perishable foods promptly.

Avoiding higher-risk foods is an important protective measure against food-borne illness. In the case of listeriosis, higher-risk groups such as younger pregnant women, the elderly and people whose immune systems are compromised should reheat frankfurters and deli meats to a safe temperature.

[From the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee]


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