You Are What You Eat

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: grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, meat and beans.

Vegetarian Diets and Nutritional Requirements

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. 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 getting these nutrients from vegetarian sources.

Vegans eat only food of plant origin. Because animal products are the only 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 insure adequacy of vitamin D and calcium, which most Americans obtain from milk products.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

It is important for people of all ages to maintain a healthy weight. People who are overweight increase their risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, breathing problems, and other illnesses. To maintain a healthy 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. Extreme thinness is also unhealthy. People who eat very little or diet excessively may not get the calories and other nutrients they need for good health.

Aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, swimming, inline skating, and playing soccer, burns fat and calories. Try to do 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity on most—preferably all—days of the week.

To Decrease Calorie Intake

Eat a variety of foods that are low in calories but high in nutrients—check the Nutrition Facts Label on the foods you eat.

Eat less fat and fewer high-fat foods.

Eat smaller portions and limit second helpings of foods high in fat and calories.

Eat more vegetables and fruits without fats and sugars added in preparation or at the table.

Eat pasta, rice, breads, and cereals without fats and sugars added in preparation or at the table.

Eat less sugar and fewer sweets like candy, cookies, cakes, and soda.

Eat Plenty of Grains, 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.

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 bowel function, can reduce symptoms of chronic constipation, and hemorrhoids, and may lower the risk for heart disease and some cancers.

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. More Americans are now eating less fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol containing goods than in the recent past. Still, many people continue to eat high-fat diets. This guideline emphasizes the continued importance of choosing a diet with less total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

Avoid High-Fat Foods

Some foods and food groups are higher in fat than others. Fats and oils, and some types of desserts and snack foods that contain fat provide calories but few other 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.

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 (65 grams of fat x 9 calories per gram = about 600 calories).

Maximum Total Fat Intake at Different Calorie Levels

Calories 1,6002,2002,800
Total fat (grams) 537393

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.

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. Remember that the total fat in the diet should be consumed at a moderate level—that is no more than 30 percent of calories. Monounsaturated 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 fat.

Choose a Low Cholesterol Diet

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-pressure and blood-cholesterol levels.

Avoid Too Much Sugar

Sugars are simple carbohydrates. Dietary carbohydrates also include starch and fiber, which are complex carbohydrates. During digestion all carbohydrates except fiber break down into sugars. Sugars and starches occur naturally in many foods that supply other nutrients. Examples of these foods include milk, fruits, some vegetables, breads, cereals, beans, and grains. Some sugars are used as natural preservatives, thickeners, and baking aids in food. The body cannot tell the difference between naturally occurring and added sugars because they are identical chemically.

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.

Avoid Too Much Sodium

Sodium occurs naturally in foods, usually in small amounts. One form of sodium is sodium chloride, commonly known as table salt. In the body, sodium plays an essential role in regulation of fluids and 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.


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