Eat Well, Exercise Well, Be Well: Dietary and Fitness Guidelines
Since the 1980s, the United States government has published healthy living guidelines every 5 years. They are research-backed diet and physical activity recommendations. The goal is to lower the risk of health problems linked to poor diet and activity, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Here are the latest key recommendations from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Obesity has been linked to many health problems. It is important to maintain ideal body weight by controlling total calorie intake. A person trying to lose weight will need to burn more calories than they take in. This means getting plenty of exercise and cutting down on foods that are high in calories.
The number of calories a person takes in depends on many things, such as age, gender, height, weight, and activity level. To keep calories under control, a person will want to focus on eating foods full of many nutrients, such as potassium, fiber, vitamin D, and calcium. A doctor or dietitian can help a person put together a plan that meets their needs. Other tips are:
- Meeting calorie needs, but not going over them
- Eating smaller portion sizes
- Making more meals at home
- Choosing foods that are high in nutrients but lower in calories
Foods to Enjoy
- Eat a lot of fruits and veggies —Fresh fruits and veggies are lower in calories than processed foods. Focus on color when choosing them. Dark green, red, and orange veggies are packed with healthy nutrients. Half of a person's plate should be filled with fruits and veggies.
- Eat a lot of whole grains —Brown rice, oatmeal, bulgur, and whole-wheat pasta are good choices. The goal should be to make half the grains whole grains.
- Have more dairy —Focus on low- or non-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt.
- It is okay to eat certain fats —Some fats are okay to eat in limited amounts, such as monosaturated or polyunsaturated fats. These are found in foods like nuts and fish.
- Power up on protein —Seafood, lean meats, poultry, beans, and soy products are good sources. Be sure to choose foods that are low in saturated fat and calories.
Foods to Limit
- Limit refined grains —Limit white bread, corn flakes, grits, regular pasta, and white rice. These foods tend to be high in calories and sugar but low in fiber.
- Limit foods with added sugars —This includes sugar-sweetened drinks and snacks.
- Limit foods high in saturated fats —This includes certain kinds of meat and dairy products (whole milk, cream, and butter). Less than 10% of calories should come from saturated fats.
- Keep trans fats as low as possible —Limit foods that have solid fats and partially hydrogenated oils, such as margarine and baked goods.
- Limit salt intake —Too much can raise the risk of high blood pressure. This can lead to kidney damage, heart disease, and stroke. Adults should take in less than 2,300 mg of sodium each day.
- Limit alcohol —Women should have no more than 1 alcoholic drink a day. Men should have no more than 2 drinks a day. Keep track of the calories in each drink. Mixed drinks have higher calories.
Prepare Your Plate
It can be hard to remember which foods to limit and which foods to eat. To help, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) made a simple image of a sectioned plate to use as a guide for healthy eating. The Choose My Plate guidelines focus on nutrient-dense foods and drinks, such as veggies, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat milk, beans, and nuts. Keep these tips in mind about how much and what to eat:
- Fill half the plate with fruits and veggies.
- Make sure half of the grains eaten are whole grains.
- Choose fat-free and low-fat (1%) milk products.
- Do not eat oversized portions.
- Enjoy food, but keep track of how much you are eating.
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
- Limit salt when cooking. Do not add salt to meals.
Diet and exercise must go together. Adults should aim for 150 minutes of activity each week. Brisk walking, biking, and swimming are good choices. A person should check with their doctor before starting any program.
Living a healthy lifestyle takes hard work and a good attitude. Doctors, dietitians, and personal trainers can help keep a person motivated and on track to reach health goals.
A healthy lifestyle should also be fun. Add some fun to workouts by taking a hike, going for a walk with coworkers, or playing a pick-up game of basketball with a neighbor. Another idea is to get creative in the kitchen. Herbs and spices can help add flavor, for example. Getting friends and family to help cook can also add to the fun. Armed with guidance, support, and motivation, a healthy lifestyle is within reach!
Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Dietitians of Canada
Dietary considerations for cardiovascular disease risk reduction. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/prevention/dietary-considerations-for-cardiovascular-disease-risk-reduction. Accessed August 24, 2020.
What is MyPlate? US Department of Agriculture ChooseMyPlate website. Available at: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/eathealthy/WhatIsMyPlate. Accessed August 24, 2020.
2015-2020 Dietary guidelines for Americans. US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Available at: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines. Accessed August 24, 2020.
Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review BoardDianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN Last Updated: 3/2/2021