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 Home>Food & Health>Education Resources>EatSmart>Lessons>

Dietary Guidelines (Lesson 1, Part A)

Background of the Dietary Guidelines

Background information about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides an overview of the process involved in the development of the 2005 edition.

What are the Dietary Guidelines?

They provide science-based advice to promote health and reduce risk for chronic diseases through diet and physical activity. The guidelines target healthy people 2 years of age and older living in the United States. They are reviewed, updated and published every 5 years and are a joint effort of U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services and Dept. of Agriculture.

Basic Premises of the Dietary Guidelines

Following the Dietary Guidelines will help reduce risk of chronic disease and obesity. Nutrient needs should be met primarily through food. Foods should be prepared and handled to reduce risk of foodborne illness. Diets should provide all nutrients needed for growth and health recommended by the Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). The DRIs include the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) and the Adequate Intakes (AI). The Dietary Reference Intakes are the nutrients recommended for humans, such as vitamin C, protein, calcium, etc., and the amounts they should consume at different ages.

2005 Dietary Guidelines Differ from Previous Versions

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans differ in scope and purpose from past Guidelines. They contain more technical information and provide detailed scientific analysis. The 2005 Guidelines is targeted toward policymakers, nutrition educators, nutritionists, nutrition educators and healthcare providers rather than the general public.

A separate document based on the Dietary Guidelines has been developed for consumers. The title is “Finding a Way to a Healthier You: Based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

Eating Patterns Showing How to Eat in Accordance with the Dietary Guidelines

USDA Food Guide and DASH Eating Plan – These are two examples of eating plans based on the Dietary Guidelines. The two eating plans show how to choose foods to get the nutrients needed each day, which are listed in the Dietary Reference Intakes. Food guides may be illustrated by graphic designs (pyramid, circle, etc.) and provide an easy way to get the nutrients you need. Rather than having to count up the number of milligrams or micrograms of each nutrient you need, eating the recommended servings of foods from the food guide will provide the needed nutrients.

  • USDA Food Guide – number of servings and amounts of food to consume from basic food groups to meet recommended nutrient intakes at 12 different calorie levels.
  • DASH Eating Plan - Originally developed to study the effects of diet on preventing hypertension. It shows the number of servings and amounts of food to consume to meet recommended nutrient intakes at four different calorie levels.

DASH & USDA Food Guide

The DASH Diet and the USDA Food Guide emphasize these foods:

  • More dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains and low-fat milk and milk products.
  • Less refined grains total fats (especially cholesterol and saturated and trans fat), added sugars and calories.

To view the USDA Food Guide, Click Here.

The USDA Food Guide and the DASH Diet provide the recommended nutrients established by the Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). The DRIs include the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) and the Adequate Intakes (AI). The Dietary Reference Intakes are the nutrients recommended for humans, such as vitamin C, protein, calcium, etc., and the amounts they should consume at different ages.

To view the DRI's, Click Here.

DASH Eating Plan

DASH Eating Plan - Originally developed to study the effects of diet on preventing hypertension. DASH shows the number of servings and amounts of food to consume to meet recommended nutrient intakes at four different calorie levels.

Nutrition Tools

There are two nutrition tools based on the dietary guidelines. They include:

  • Food label – information on food labels including health statements for certain nutrients.
  • Nutrition Facts panel – provides information about nutrients a product contains.

The Nutrition Facts provide information about nutrients in foods. Two thousand calories is the value used as a general reference on the food label. You can calculate your number at www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines.

To view an example of the Nutrition Facts Label, Click Here.

What are the 2005 Dietary Guidelines?

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines developed for healthy Americans two years of age and older are:

  • Adequate nutrients within calorie needs
  • Weight Management
  • Physical Activity
  • Food Groups to Encourage
  • Fats
  • Carbohydrates
  • Sodium and Potassium
  • Alcoholic Beverages
  • Food Safety

In addition to the guidelines, key recommendations were also developed for each dietary guideline.

Consumer Messages

The Dietary Guidelines were used to develop the following consumer messages:

  • Feel better today. Stay healthy for tomorrow.
  • Make smart choices from every food group.
  • Mix up your choices within each food group.
  • Find your balance between food and physical activity.
  • Get the most nutrition out of your calories.
  • Nutrition: To know the facts...use the label.
  • Play it safe with food.
  • About alcohol.

The consumer messages will be used to educate the public about the Dietary Guidelines and are included in the consumer brochure “Finding a Way to a Healthier You: Based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

Overview of Adequate Nutrients Within Calorie Needs

Many Americans consume too many or too much:

  • Calories
  • Saturated fats
  • Trans fats
  • Cholesterol
  • Added sugars
  • Salt


Although many Americans consume too many calories, they may not get enough of certain recommended nutrients including:

Adults: calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium; vitamins A (carotenoids), C and E

Children & adolescents: calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium, vitamin E

Certain population groups: B12, iron, folic acid, vitamins E and D.

Nutrients of Concern – Adults

Many adults need to increase their intakes of certain nutrients: potassium, fiber, calcium, vitamin E, vitamins A (carotenoids), vitamin C and magnesium. Many older adults may not be able to absorb B12 from foods because they do not produce substances (intrinsic factor) needed for B12 absorption. Additionally, most Americans need to decrease their intake of sodium.

Nutrients of Concern – Children

Many children need to increase their intakes of: potassium, fiber, calcium and magnesium. They also consume many foods with added salt and need to decrease their intakes of sodium.

Foods Sources of Nutrients of Concern

Vitamins A (carotenoids), C and magnesium – fruits and vegetables
Fiber – whole-grains, fruits and vegetables
Potassium – fruits, vegetables and low-fat or fat-free dairy products
Vitamin E – fortified cereals, nuts and seeds, vegetable oils, some vegetables, sardines and herring.

Remember!!! Meeting nutrient recommendations must go hand in hand with keeping calories under control!

Adequate Nutrients Within Calorie Needs Key Recommendations

It is important to consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages within and among the basic food groups while choosing foods that limit the intake of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt and alcohol. Additionally, it is important to meet recommended intakes within energy needs by adopting a balanced eating pattern, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Guide or the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Eating Plan.

Key Recommendations for Specific Populations Groups

These groups include people older than 50, women of childbearing age, and older adults, people with dark skin and those who do not get enough sunlight. The recommendations are as follows:

  • People over age 50. Consume vitamin B12 in its crystalline form (fortified foods or supplements).
  • Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant. Eat foods high in heme-iron and /or consume iron-rich plant foods or iron-fortified foods with an enhancer of iron absorption, such as vitamin C-rich foods.
  • Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant and those in the first trimester of pregnancy. Consume adequate synthetic folic acid daily (from fortified foods or supplements) in addition to food forms of folate from a varied diet.
  • Older adults, people with dark skin and people exposed to insufficient ultraviolet band radiation (sunlight). Consume extra vitamin D from vitamin D-fortified foods and /or supplements.

Use Eating Guides and Plans to Get Adequate Nutrients Within Calorie Needs

The USDA Food Guide and the DASH Eating Plan are flexible to permit food choices based on individual and cultural food preferences, cost and availability. Foods emphasized on these eating guides include more dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains and low-fat milk and milk products. Eat fewer refined grains, total fats (especially cholesterol and saturated and trans fat), added sugars and calories.

To view the Estimated Calorie Requirements Based on Age and Gender, Click Here.

Fluids for Proper Hydration

Fluids for proper hydration are addressed in this Dietary Guideline as well as the Guideline on Physical Activity. Thirst and normal drinking at meals are usually sufficient to maintain hydration. Healthy individuals who have routine access to fluids and are not exposed to heat stress consume adequate water to meet their needs.

To avoid dehydration during prolonged physical activity or when it is hot; drink fluid regularly during the activity and drink several glasses of water or other fluid after the physical activity.


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Last Updated: 11/11/2009 12:46:01 PM
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