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Nutrition 101

Eating a balanced diet is an essential part of leading a healthy lifestyle. Regularly eating the right amount and kinds of foods can help maintain a healthy weight and reduce risk for developing many conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. It is important to assess the food you are eating to know if you are meeting the current recommendations for your age, gender and activity level.


The food pyramid was replaced with MyPlate in 2011 in an effort to help Americans make better food choices.  Each food group featured provides different nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy.  Make it your goal to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter of your plate with lean protein and a quarter of your plate with whole grains.  Then add a serving of low fat dairy, and you have a perfectly healthy and balanced plate!

  • Fruit: Adults should aim to eat between 1½ to 2 cups of fruit every day.  Fruit is great for a snack, side item or dessert.
  • Vegetables:  Adults should aim for 2½ to 3 cups of vegetables per day.  Try to eat a variety of colors when selecting veggies.
  • Protein: Adults need between 5½ to 6 ounces of protein per day.  Meat, seafood, beans, nuts and eggs are all considered protein.  The most recent recommendation suggests eating seafood in place of some meat or poultry twice per week.
  • Grains: Adults should aim for 5 to 7 ounces of grains per day.  Choose whole grains like whole wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, oatmeal and whole wheat cereal over refined grains whenever possible.
  • Dairy: Adults should consume 3 servings of dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese) per day.  Choosing low-fat or fat-free dairy is recommended to reduce saturated fat intake.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010

In addition to MyPlate, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans highlight a few key recommendations based on current dietary patterns. Adult females generally need between 1,600-2,400 calories based on activity levels and men need between 2,000-3,000 calories. To determine your individual needs, check out our calorie needs calculator.


  • Control total calorie intake and increase physical activity to manage body weight.
  • Reduce sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day.  If you are 51 and older, African American or have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, try to reduce sodium to less than 1,500 mg. (Just because you don’t pick up a salt shaker doesn’t mean you are eating a low sodium diet. According to the American Heart Association, up to 75% of the sodium in the average American diet comes from processed and restaurant foods.)
  • Less than 10% of your daily calories should come from solid fats.  These include saturated and trans fats and are found in butter, full fat dairy products, shortening, many animal foods and baked goods.
  • Reduce intake of calories from added sugars. Added sugars are found in carbonated, energy, sports, and fruit drinks, desserts, candy, and many cereals.

Reading Nutrition Labels

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture – http://www.choosemyplate.gov/downloads/NutritionFactsLabel.pdf