Eat real food. That's the essence of today's nutrition message. Our knowledge of nutrition has come full circle, back to eating food that is as close as possible to the way nature made it. Based on a solid foundation of current nutrition science, Harvard's Special Health Report Healthy Eating: A guide to the new nutrition describes how to eat for optimum health.
The latest nutrition guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Human Services have a new emphasis: weight control. In previous years, the guidelines focused on nutrients: What proportion of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates is optimal for health? Or, what amounts of different vitamins and minerals do you need to protect yourself from diseases?
The slogan for the new guidelines is: "Calories in, calories out." Put another way: Americans should strive to maintain a calorie balance, eating no more calories than they burn each day. If you are overweight, the goal is to eat fewer calories than you burn each day to reach a healthy weight. Calorie control and daily physical activity are the cornerstones of the new guidelines.
Why the emphasis on weight control? The Dietary Guidelines report explains it this way: "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." With this in mind, the Dietary Guidelines include these recommendations for foods to cut back on and foods to increase:
7 foods 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.
- Consume less than 10% 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.
- Reduce the intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars.
- Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially those with 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.
8 foods and nutrients to increase
Eat more of these foods while staying within your calorie goals.
- Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, especially dark green, red, and orange vegetables, fruits, 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.
- Choose seafood in place of some meat and poultry.
- Replace protein foods that are high in solid fats with proteins that are low in solid fats and calories.
- Use healthy vegetable 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.
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.
No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.