How Healthy Is Your Diet?

This month, the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines and Key Recommendations were released. Created with the typical American diet in mind, these guidelines provide diet suggestions that promote health and help prevent chronic disease.


Everyone has favorite foods. The choices we make when we’re hungry matter more than we may realize. Over time, choices become habits, and dietary habits—or eating patterns—can have a significant impact on our health. We’ve summarized the newly released 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines to help you evaluate your diet and cultivate eating habits that support good health and an active lifestyle.

The USDA updates dietary guidelines every five years. Those diet recommendations are focused on helping Americans get the nutrients they need while fighting obesity and lowering the risk of chronic diseases.

General guidelines for good health

The recommendations that follow are based on a 2000-calorie-per-day diet, and provide general guidelines for the foods we need daily for good health:

  • Vegetables: Two and a half cups per day, with an emphasis on variety. Color is an easy way to evaluate variety; the more colorful your vegetable selection, the more nutritional it probably is.
  • Fruits: Two cups per day, with a preference for whole fruits over fruit juice—which often contains added sugar.
  • Grains: Six ounces of grains per day, with a preference for whole grains.
  • Dairy: Three cups per day, with a preference for fat-free and low-fat dairy products that deliver necessary nutrients with fewer calories.
  • Proteins: Five and a half ounces per day, with a specific recommendation to include at least 8 ounces of seafood per week.
  • Oils: Five teaspoons of healthful oils per day. Healthful oils are defined as fats that are liquid at room temperature, or as fats that are present in nuts, seeds, seafood, olives, and avocados.

Foods to limit or avoid in your diet

  • Sugar: Although sugar can make tart fruits like rhubarb and cranberries more palatable, they add calories without any nutritional benefit. The guidelines recommend that we limit calories from sugar to no more than 10 percent of our daily calorie intake.
  • Saturated fats: Like sugar, we should limit calories from saturated fats to no more than 10 percent per day.
  • Trans Fats: Because trans fats raise harmful cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease, it is better to avoid these fats completely, or keep consumption as low as possible.
  • Sodium: Although our body needs sodium, the average American consumes too much. The guidelines recommend that we limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day.
  • Alcohol: If you don’t drink, there’s no need to start. For those who do drink, moderation is the key: men should limit themselves to no more than two servings per day, and women shouldn’t exceed one serving per day.

If your current eating pattern is less than ideal, now is the perfect time to start cultivating new habits. Add a cup of veggies to your dinner plate, or substitute a piece of fruit for a sugary dessert. Small changes can add up to significantly improved health over time.

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