The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offers an overall food guidance system (ChooseMyPlate) to make Americans aware of the vital health benefits of simple and modest improvements in nutrition, physical activity and lifestyle behavior.
The ChooseMyPlate symbol represents the recommended proportion of foods from each food group (grains, vegetable, fruit, dairy, protein, and oil) and focuses on the importance of making smart food choices in every food group, every day. Each of these food groups provides some, but not all, of the nutrients you need. Foods in one group cannot replace those in another and no one food group is more important than another. For good health, you need them all along with physical activity. The amount you need from each group depends on your age, sex, and level of physical activity.
Find your healthy eating style and maintain it for a lifetime. Everything you eat and drink over time matters! The right mix can help you be healthier now and in the future.
- Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. All food and beverage choices matter. Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce risk for chronic disease.
- Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.
- Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake. Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.
- Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across and within all food groups in place of less healthy choices. Consider cultural and personal preferences to make these shifts easier to accomplish and maintain.
- Support healthy eating patterns for all. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple settings nationwide, from home to school to work to communities.
Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Grains are divided into 2 subgroups, whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel—the bran, germ, and endosperm. Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ—and removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Popcorn, bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products. The amount of grain foods you need to eat can vary between 3 and 8 ounce-equivalents each day. In general, 3 cups of popcorn, 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or 1/2 cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal can be considered as 1 ounce-equivalent from the grains group.
At least half of the grains you eat should be whole grains. Popcorn is a whole grain.
- Consuming whole grains as part of a healthy diet may help reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
- Consuming whole grain foods that contain fiber, as part of an overall healthy diet, can support healthy digestion. Fiber is important for proper bowel function. It helps reduce constipation and diverticulosis.
- Eating whole grains, as part of an overall healthy diet, may help with weight management. Fiber-containing foods such as whole grains help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories.
Any vegetable or 100% vegetable juice counts as a member of the vegetable group. The amount of vegetables you need to eat can vary between 1 and 3 cups each day. In general, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens can be considered as 1 cup from the vegetable group.
A healthy eating pattern includes a variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups — dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables — vary your veggies.
Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. The USDA recommends between 1 1/2 - 2 cups of fruits per day. In general, 1 cup of fruit or 100% fruit juice, or 1/2 cup of dried fruit can be considered as 1 cup from the fruit group.
A healthy eating pattern includes fruits, especially whole fruits. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables — focus on whole fruits. Young children should consume no more than 4 to 6 fluid ounces of 100% juice per day.
All fluid milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Foods made from milk that retain their calcium content are part of the group, while foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter, are not. Most milk group choices should be fat-free or low-fat. The USDA recommends 3 cups of milk per day. In general, 1 cup of milk or yogurt, 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese can be considered as 1 cup from the milk group.
All foods made from meat, poultry, fish, dry beans or peas, eggs, nuts, and seeds are considered part of this group. Dry beans and peas are part of this group as well as the vegetable group. Most meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat. Fish, nuts, and seeds contain healthy oils, so choose these foods frequently instead of meat or poultry. Most Americans eat enough food from this group, but need to make leaner and more varied selections of these foods. In general, 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish, 1/4 cup cooked dry beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds can be considered as 1 ounce equivalent from the meat and beans group.
A healthy eating pattern includes a variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products. Vary your protein routine.
Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, like the vegetable oils used in cooking. Oils come from many different plants and from fish. Oils are NOT a food group, but they provide essential nutrients. Some commonly eaten oils include: canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, olive oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil.
Most oils are high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, and low in saturated fats. Oils from plant sources (vegetable and nut oils) do not contain any cholesterol. In fact, no plant foods contain cholesterol. A few plant oils, however, including coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil, are high in saturated fats and for nutritional purposes should be considered to be solid fats.
Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature, like butter and shortening. Solid fats come from many animal foods and can be made from vegetable oils through a process called hydrogenation. Some common fats are: butter, milk fat, beef fat (tallow, suet), chicken fat, pork fat (lard), stick margarine, shortening, and partially hydrogenated oil.
Most Americans consume enough oil in the foods they eat, such as nuts, fish, cooking oil, and salad dressings. Generally, the USDA recommends consuming no more than 5-6 teaspoons of oils per day.
A healthy eating pattern includes oils. Use oils like canola, olive, and others instead of solid fats.
Drink and Eat Less Sodium, Saturated Fat, and Added Sugars
Tips for Salt and Sodium:
- Many processed foods contain high amounts of sodium. Choose fresh vegetables, meats, poultry, and seafood when possible.
- Using spices or herbs, such as dill, chili powder, paprika, or cumin, and lemon or lime juice, can add flavor without adding salt.
Tips for Saturated Fats:
- Keep it lean and flavorful. Try grilling, broiling, roasting, or baking—they don’t add extra fat.
- Simple substitutions can help you stay within your saturated fat limit. Try using nonfat yogurt when you make tuna or chicken salad.
Tips for Added Sugars:
- Split the sweet treats and share with a family member or friend.
- Cut calories by drinking water or unsweetened beverages. Soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks are a major source of added sugars.
Being physically active is important for your health. Adults who are physically active are less likely to develop some chronic diseases than adults who are inactive. Physical activity is any form of exercise or movement of the body that uses energy. People of all ages, shapes, sizes, and abilities can benefit from a physically active lifestyle.
Walking, gardening, briskly pushing a baby stroller, climbing the stairs, playing soccer, or dancing the night away are all good examples of being active. Every little bit of activity can add up and doing something is better than nothing. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, go for a 10-minute walk on your lunch break, or park further away from work and walk.
For health benefits, do at least 2½ hours each week of physical activity that requires moderate effort. A few examples include brisk walking, biking, swimming, and skating. Spread activities over the week, but do them at least 10 minutes at a time. This is in addition to your usual daily activities. Increasing the intensity or the amount of time of activity can have additional health benefits and may be needed to control body weight.
- Drink Up: Reach for water when you’re thirsty or being active.
- Get an Energy Boost: Choose the right snacks for outdoor activities. Pack fruit, nuts, whole-grain popcorn and low-fat cheese.
- Strengthen Your Muscles: Adults should also do strengthening activities, like push-ups, sit-ups and lifting weights, at least 2 days a week.