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Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides evidence-based nutrition information and advice for people ages two and older to help Americans make healthy choices about food and beverages in their daily lives. The Guidelines also serve as the basis for federal food and nutrition education programs, like the new MyPlate, My Wins campaign to help you find reSOLUTIONS that will help you meet your healthy eating goals.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, produced by HHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture every five years, analyze the latest research to help Americans make smart choices about food and physical activity so they can live healthier lives.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans focuses on making small shifts in your daily eating habits to improve your health over the long run. They also emphasize the importance of “eating patterns,” which refer to the combination of ALL foods and beverages a person consumes regularly over time, rather than focusing on individual nutrients or foods in isolation. Healthy eating patterns, along with regular physical activity, have been shown in a large body of current science to help people reach and maintain good health while reducing risks of chronic disease throughout their lives. Additionally, healthy eating patterns can be adapted to an individual’s budget, taste preferences, traditions, and culture.

The core recommendations for these healthy eating patterns are unchanged from previous editions of the Guidelines, and continue to encourage Americans to consume more healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, lean meats, seafood, other protein foods, and oils. They also recommend limiting sodium, saturated and trans fats, and added sugars.

There are five overarching guidelines in this eighth edition:

  • Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. Eating patterns are the combination of foods and drinks that a person eats over time.
  • Focus on variety, nutrient-dense foods, and amount.
  • Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, and reduce sodium intake.
  • Shift to healthier food and beverage choices.
  • Support healthy eating patterns for all.

What Represents a Healthy Eating Pattern?

Many Americans consume less than ideal amounts of certain nutrients needed for a healthy diet. To put you on the path to improving your health through nutrition, the Guidelines recommend including the following components when developing your healthy eating pattern:

  • A variety of vegetables: dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy and other vegetables.
  • Fruits, especially whole fruit.
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grain.
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages.
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), soy products, and nuts and seeds.
  • Oils, including those from plants: canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, and sunflower. Oils also are naturally present in nuts, seeds, seafood, olives, and avocados.

Foods and Food Components to Limit

More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, often as a result of unhealthy diets and a sedentary lifestyle. To improve our nation's health, the Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting consumption of the following:

  • Salt. Adults and children ages 14 years and over should limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day, and children younger than 14 years should consume even less. Use the Nutrition Facts label to check for sodium, especially in processed foods like pizza, pasta dishes, sauces, and soups.
  • Saturated and trans fats. Less than 10% of your daily calories should come from saturated fats. Foods that are high in saturated fat include butter, whole milk, meats that are not labeled as lean, and tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil. Saturated fats should be replaced with unsaturated fats, such as canola or olive oil.
  • Added sugars. Less than 10% of your daily calories should come from added sugars. ChooseMyPlate.gov provides more information about added sugars, which are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. This does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those consumed as part of milk and fruits.

Remember Physical Activity

Regular physical activity goes hand-in-hand with a healthy diet when you are trying to improve your health. HHS’ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week for adults. Muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups should be performed on two or more days each week by adults. Children and adolescents 6 to 17 years old should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Youth should include aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening activities.

Everyone Has a Role to Play

All of us, whether at home, school, in the workplace, in your community, and in food retail outlets, need to encourage easy, accessible, and affordable ways to support healthy choices.

  • At home, you and your family can try out small changes to find what works for you like adding more veggies to favorite dishes, planning meals and cooking at home, and incorporating physical activity into time with family or friends.
  • Schools can improve the selection of healthy food choices in cafeterias and vending machines, provide nutrition education programs and school gardens, increase school-based physical activity, and encourage parents and caregivers to promote healthy changes at home.
  • Workplaces can encourage walking or activity breaks; offer healthy food options in the cafeteria, vending machines, and at staff meetings or functions; and provide health and wellness programs and nutrition counseling.
  • Communities can increase access to affordable, healthy food choices through community gardens, farmers’ markets, shelters, and food banks and create walkable communities by maintaining safe public spaces.
  • Food retail outlets can inform consumers about making healthy changes and provide healthy food choices.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans offer overall guidance on healthy eating. Most important, make sure your diet is meeting your nutritional needs at the appropriate calorie level. 

Finally, the Guidelines recommend that you follow food safety recommendations when cooking and eating foods to reduce your risk of foodborne illness. The How to Eat Healthy page has more tips for food safety.



U.S. Department of Agriculture and HHS. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. January 2016. Available at: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/

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Content created by President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition
Content last reviewed on January 26, 2017