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The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide sound advice about diet and physical activity. They are designed to promote good health and help prevent problems such as obesity, heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and certain cancers.
The Dietary Guidelines are updated by the government every five years to reflect the latest scientific findings about diet, physical activity and health.
Think about what you eat. Before you eat, ask yourself if you are hungry, and try to avoid eating for other reasons such as the food is there, or you’re bored. If you are hungry, aim for foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein foods that contain the nutrients you need without too many calories. Remember the following smart options:
Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
Eat a rainbow of colors – the deeper the hues of green, red, and orange the better. Fill up on produce that is in season, or choose frozen or canned options. If buying canned products, look for no added salt vegetables or fruits packed in water/natural juice. Add fruits and veggies to salads and main dishes whenever possible. Eat fruits and vegetables as snacks. Keep the refrigerator stocked with these great grab-and-go options.
Switch to low-fat or non-fat milk.
Did you know that low-fat and non-fat milk have the same amount of calcium, protein and other essential nutrients as those made with whole milk, but with less fat and calories? Calcium-fortified soy products can be a good alternative to dairy foods if you prefer.
Make at least half your grains whole.
Check the ingredients list on food packages to find whole-grain foods. Choose 100% whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice, and pasta.
Vary your protein food choices.
Aim to have 2 servings of seafood per week in place of meat or poultry. Choose leaner cuts of beef, pork and poultry – and remove visible fat or skin. Keep an eye on portion size – a 3-oz. serving is about the size of a deck of cards.Use nuts and seeds to replace meats and poultry in the diet, but be mindful of the portion size. (Nuts can be high in calories, so eat them in small portions – typically about a handful or 1 ounce/day). Lastly, try to incorporate more beans into your diet. They are extremely versatile and economical – plus they can be good sources of fiber and protein.
When you are at the grocery store, use the Nutrition Facts Panel to help you compare products in the same category. Look for reduced fat, reduced sodium, and no added sugar options whenever possible. Choose fresh fruit, vegetables or unsalted nuts as snacks more often. The following tips may also help:
Choose foods and drinks with little or no added sugars.
Drink water instead of sugary drinks. Try replacing at least one sugar sweetened beverage per day with water. Select fruit for dessert. If whole fruit is not an option, choose 100% fruit juice instead of fruit-flavored drinks. Eat sugary desserts like cake, candy and cookies less often.
Check the Nutrition Facts Panel to compare the sodium levels in foods you buy.
Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals—and choose the foods with lower numbers. Also consider lower-sodium versions of favorite foods. Add spices or herbs to season food without adding salt.
Eat less foods that are high in solid fats.
Make major sources of dietary saturated fats—such as pizza, sausages, hot dogs, ice cream, cakes, cookies occasional foods, not everyday foods. Select leaner cuts of meats or poultry and remove the skin and all visible fat. Choose fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese. Switch from solid fats, like butter or shortening, to oils when cooking or preparing food.
Everyone has unique caloric needs based on age, activity level and gender. Staying within your caloric needs can help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
Enjoy your food, but eat less.
Avoid oversized portions and don’t be a member of the “clean plate” club. Leave a few bites from each meal as a simple tool to help you eat less calories at each meal. You can also try using smaller plates, bowls, and glasses at home as a way to control your caloric intake. Most importantly, stop eating when you are satisfied, not full. Eat slowly so your body has a chance to recognize the feeling of fullness.
Try to cook more often at home and bring a brown bag lunch.
When dining out, check posted calorie amounts and choose the lower calorie option. Opt for dishes that are baked, grilled or roasted instead of fried, breaded or sautéed. Choose dishes that include vegetables, fruits, and/or whole grains. Go easy on the bread basket, and be sure to order sauces and salad dressings on the side. If possible, order an appetizer portion or share a meal with a friend. Otherwise, after the order comes to the table, put half your meal in a to-go bag and save it for the next day.
Write down what you eat to keep track of how much you eat.
For a few days, try journaling to track how much food you’re eating. Pay attention to the quantity as well. Try measuring your food out for a few days until you can estimate what the recommended servings of food looks like. Most people tend to underestimate how much they eat so you might be surprised to see how your typical portions compare.
Adults who choose to drink alcoholic beverages should do so in moderation. Limit to 1 drink a day for women or to 2 drinks a day for men (1 drink = 5fl. oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of spirits, or 12 oz. of beer). There are some instances when adults should not consume alcoholic beverages.
Start slowly with activities you enjoy – every little bit helps. Try to fit at least 10 minute bouts of activity at a time and work up to at least 30 minutes of activity most days of the week. If you are trying to maintain your weight, the goal is 60 minutes of activity most days of the week. If you are trying to lose weight, shoot for 90 minutes of activity on most days of the week.
Physical Activity Recommendations
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend adults to have at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and should perform muscle – strengthening exercises on 2 or more days each week. Youth ages 6-17 years need at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, including aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone strengthening activities.
Note to parents
Make smart living a family affair. Work as a team on activities such as meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, housecleaning, and yard work. These activities teach kids valuable life skills and give you an opportunity to shine as a role model. Have fun, too, by taking walks, going swimming and playing active games together.