Nutrition for EveryoneThese days, a wealth of nutrition information is at your finger tips. From diet books to newspaper articles, everyone seems to have an opinion about what you should be eating. It's no secret that good nutrition plays an essential role in maintaining health.

While you already know it is important to eat a healthy diet, you may find it more difficult to sort through all of the information about nutrition and food choices. The CDC has compiled a variety of resources to help you start healthier eating habits.

Selected Resources

Nutrition for
Check out the new Fruit & Veggies Matter Web site for tips, recipes, and more! You can find easy ways to add more fruits and vegetables into your daily eating patterns.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005
Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published jointly by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA), provides advice about how good dietary habits for people aged 2 years and older can promote health and reduce risk for major chronic diseases.

Also available, a brochure for consumers: Finding Your Way to a Healthier You: Based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Nutrition for
The new USDA food pyramid replaces "one size fits all" with a customizable eating plan. Explore the new pyramid to learn about the food groups and to find additional healthy eating tips.

Food Safety
Preventing foodborne illness and death remains a major public health challenge.

Nutrition Basics

Do you ever feel like you can't keep up with the changes in technology? Sometimes it seems that way with dietary advice, as if things are always changing. While it's true that the fields of diet and nutrition are areas of evolving research, there are some basic concepts you can keep in mind. By knowing these basics, you will be better equipped to sort through nutrition research and dietary advice.

Nutrition for EveryoneFood Groups
You may have grown up with the "Basic 4": dairy group, meat group, grain group, and the fruits and vegetables group. As nutrition science has changed, so have these food groups. This section helps explains food groups and provides some healthy eating plans.

Nutrition for EveryoneWater: Meeting Your Daily Fluid Needs
Water is is involved in every function of the body. It's in every cell, tissue and organ of the body. In this section you'll learn why getting enough water everyday is important for your health.

Nutrition for EveryoneDietary Fat
Whether you're looking for information about monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, saturated fat, trans fat, or cholesterol, you'll find what you need here.

Nutrition for EveryoneCarbohydrates
You may be wondering what all the hype is about carbohydrates or "carbs" as they are often called. Find out the facts.

Nutrition for EveryoneProtein
Then there's protein. How much do you really need? Can you get too much? You'll find answers to these questions and more by visiting this section.

Nutrition for EveryoneVitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are nutrients your body needs to grow and develop normally. The NIH Vitamin and Mineral Supplement Fact Sheets provide information about the role of vitamins and minerals in health and disease.

Food Groups

Food Groups

Are you interested in healthy eating and having a balanced diet? If so, you'll want to learn more about food groups.

You may have grown up with the "Basic 4": dairy group, meat group, grain group, and the fruits and vegetables group. As nutrition science has changed, so have these food groups.

What Are the Basic Food Groups?

Foods are grouped together when they share similar nutritional properties. The groups below are based on the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. Depending on the plan you choose, you might find the food groups arranged with some slight differences. For example, MyPyramid has a meat and beans group instead of a meat, poultry, and fish group.

Food GroupsExamples
GrainsWhole wheat bread and rolls, whole wheat pasta, English muffin, pita bread, bagel, cereals, grits, oatmeal, brown rice, unsalted pretzels and popcornNutrition for Everyone
FruitsApples, apricots, bananas, dates, grapes, oranges, grapefruit, grapefruit juice, mangoes, melons, peaches, pineapples, raisins, strawberries, tangerines, and 100% fruit juiceNutrition for Everyone
VegetablesBroccoli, carrots, collards, green beans, green peas, kale, lima beans, potatoes, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoesNutrition for Everyone
Fat-free or low-fat milk and milk productsFat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk or buttermilk, fat-free, low-fat, or reduced-fat cheese, fat-free or low-fat regular or frozen yogurtNutrition for Everyone
Lean meats, poultry, and fishBeef, poultry, pork, game meats, fish, shellfish Select only lean; trim away visible fats; broil, roast, or poach; remove skin from poultryNutrition for Everyone
Nuts, seeds, and legumesAlmonds, hazelnuts, mixed nuts, peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, kidney beans, lentils, split peasNutrition for Everyone

How Much of Each Food Group Should I Eat?

To learn this, you'll want to refer to a healthy eating plan. A healthy eating plan will show you how much you need from each food group to stay within your calorie needs and promote good health. A healthy eating plan can also help you learn --

  • How many calories you need each day.
  • How much of each food equals a portion.
  • How to make healthy choices in each food group.

What Are Some Examples of Healthy Eating Plans?

Two examples of healthy eating plans are identified by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005:

Nutrition for (based on The USDA Food Guide)
Nutrition for EveryoneThe DASH Eating Plan

Which Eating Plan Should I Choose?

Either can work for you. Both are healthy eating plans that --

  • Focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products.
  • Include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.
  • Are low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
  • Can provide your daily calorie needs (when you choose the recommended amounts).

Choose the Meal Plan That Works Best for You.

For example, if you want recommendations specific to you, you might choose by visiting the My Pyramid Plan and entering your age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level.

Here's some more information to help you choose:

 MyPyramid.govDASH Eating Plan
Where did it come from?The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Guide is the basis for the eating plans offered through was developed to help individuals create meal plans specific to their needs and takes into account the following:

  • Sex
  • Age
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Physical activity level

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.

Developed by researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to learn if certain nutrients in foods would help reduce blood pressure. Studies showed that the eating plan, particularly when combined with eating less sodium, lowered blood pressure.

Although the plan was developed to help lower blood pressure, it offers a healthy approach to eating that can benefit all adults.

What is available to help me?Tools to develop individualized eating plans, tips for following them, and tools for tracking progress.Information about food groups, serving sizes, sample menus, and recipes.
Where can I go for more information?See The DASH Eating Plan.

How Do Foods With Extra Fats or Sugars Fit?

Some foods contain added fats or sugars. Both food plans have categories to help you include these foods in your diet occasionally. The DASH plan has a fats and oils category and a sweets and added sugars category. has an oils category and a discretionary calories category.

Water: Meeting Your Daily Fluid Needs

Water: Meeting Your Daily Fluid Needs

Ever notice how lifeless a house plant looks when you forget to water it? Just a little water and it seems to perk back up. Water is just as essential for our bodies because it is in every cell, tissue, and organ in your body. That's why getting enough water every day is important for your health.

Nutrition for EveryoneHealthy people meet their fluid needs by drinking when thirsty and drinking fluids with meals. But, if you're outside in hot weather for most of the day or doing vigorous physical activity, you'll need to make an effort to drink more fluids.

Where Do I Get the Water I Need?

Most of your water needs are met through the water and beverages you drink. You can get some fluid through the foods you eat. For example, broth soups and other foods that are 85% to 95% water such as celery, tomatoes, oranges, and melons.

What Does Water Do in My Body?

Water helps your body with the following:

  • Keeps its temperature normal.
  • Lubricates and cushions your joints.
  • Protects your spinal cord and other sensitive tissues.
  • Gets rid of wastes through urination, perspiration, and bowel movements.

Why Do I Need to Drink Enough Water Each Day?

You need water to replace what your body loses through normal everyday functions. Of course, you lose water when you go to the bathroom or sweat, but you even lose small amounts of water when you exhale. You need to replace this lost water to prevent dehydration.

Nutrition for EveryoneYour body also needs more water when you are --

  • In hot climates.
  • More physically active.
  • Running a fever.
  • Having diarrhea or vomiting.

To help you stay hydrated during prolonged physical activity or when it is hot outside, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommend these two steps:

  1. Drink fluid while doing the activity.
  2. Drink several glasses of water or other fluid after the physical activity is completed.1

Also, when you are participating in vigorous physical activity, it's important to drink before you even feel thirsty. Thirst is a signal that your body is on the way to dehydration. For more information, visit Fit Facts, Healthy Hydration from the American Council on Fitness.

Some people may have fluid restrictions because of a health problem, such as kidney disease. If your healthcare provider has told you to restrict your fluid intake, be sure to follow that advice.

Tips for Increasing Your Fluid Intake by Drinking More Water

Nutrition for EveryoneUnder normal conditions, most people can drink enough fluids to meet their water needs. If you are outside in hot weather for most of the day or doing vigorous activity, you may need to increase your fluid intake.

If you think you're not getting enough water each day, the following tips may help:

  • Carry a water bottle for easy access when you are at work or running errands.
  • Freeze some freezer-safe water bottles. Take one with you for ice-cold water all day long.
  • Choose water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages. This tip can also help with weight management. Substituting water for one 20-ounce sugar-sweetened soda will save you about 240 calories.
  • Choose water instead of other beverages when eating out. Generally, you will save money and reduce calories.
  • Give your water a little pizzazz by adding a wedge of lime or lemon. This may improve the taste, and you just might drink more water than you usually do.

Do Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Count?

**Rethink your drink.**Although beverages that are sweetened with sugars do provide water, they usually have more calories than unsweetened beverages. To help with weight control, you should consume beverages and foods that don't have added sugars.

Examples of beverages with added sugars:

  • Fruit drinks.
  • Some sports drinks.
  • Soft drinks and sodas (non-diet).

Visit Rethink Your Drink for more information about the calories in beverages and how you can make better drink choices to reduce your calorie intake.


  1. HHS & USDA. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005. Chapter 2: Adequate Nutrients Within Calorie Needs. Accessed online May 24, 2007:
  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine & NIH. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Water in Diet.

Dietary Fat

Dietary Fat

What counts as fat? Are some fats better than other fats? While fats are essential for normal body function, some fats are better for you than others. Trans fats, saturated fats and cholesterol are less healthy than polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

We also have a page on Controlling Fat in Your Diet.

Some fried foods and commercially baked goods may contain trans fats.
Some fried foods and commercially baked goods may contain trans fats.

Trans Fat

You may have heard about trans fats recently in the news. These fats made headlines when food manufacturers were required to list them on the Nutrition Facts Label in 2006.

So what's the story with trans fats? These fats are created during food processing when liquid oils are converted into solid fats -- a process called hydrogenation. This creates partially-hydrogenated oils that tend to keep food fresh longer while on grocery shelves. The problem is that these partially-hydrogenated oils contain trans fats which can also increase low-density lipoprotein LDL-cholesterol and decrease high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol -- risk factors for heart disease.

The Recommendation
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommend keeping the amount of trans fat you consume as low as possible.

The good news is that some manufacturers have changed how they process foods to reduce the amounts of trans fats in their products. Be on the look out for foods that contain trans fats, such as commercially-baked cookies, crackers, and pies. Some commercial restaurants may also use partially-hydrogenated oils when frying their entrees and side items.

For more, see [Controlling Your Trans Fat Intake]( fats).

Saturated Fat

Nutrition for EveryoneYou may have heard that saturated fats are the "solid" fats in your diet. For the most part, this is true. For example, if you open a container of meat stew, you will probably find some fat floating on top. This fat is saturated fat.

The Recommendation
Diets high in saturated fat have been linked to chronic disease, specifically, coronary heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommend consuming less than 10% of daily calories as saturated fat.

But other saturated fats can be more difficult to see in your diet. In general, saturated fat can be found in the following foods:

  • High-fat cheeses
  • High-fat cuts of meat
  • Whole-fat milk and cream
  • Butter
  • Ice cream and ice cream products
  • Palm and coconut oils

It's important to note that lower-fat versions of these foods usually will contain saturated fats, but typically in smaller quantities than the regular versions.

As you look at this list above, notice two things. First, animal fats are a primary source of saturated fat. Secondly, certain plant oils are another source of saturated fats: palm oils, coconut oils, and cocoa butter. You may think you don't use palm or coconut oils, but they are often added to commercially-prepared foods, such as cookies, cakes, doughnuts, and pies. Solid vegetable shortening often contains palm oils and some whipped dessert toppings contain coconut oil.

For more, see [Controlling Your Saturated Fat Intake]( fats).

Nutrition for EveryoneDietary Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that's found in animal-based foods such as meats, poultry, egg yolks, and whole milks. Do you remember the other type of fat that is found in animal-based products? That's right -- saturated fat.

The Recommendation
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommend that individuals consume less than 300 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol each day.

So, when you follow the tips to reduce your saturated fat intake, in most cases, you will be reducing your dietary cholesterol intake at the same time. For example, if you switch to low-fat and fat-free dairy products, you will reduce your intake of both saturated fat and cholesterol.

Quick Q& A
I've heard that some people have high blood cholesterol because of the foods they eat but that other people have high cholesterol because of genetics. What's the difference?
Not only do you get cholesterol from the foods you eat (your diet) your body also makes cholesterol to use in normal body functions.

The cholesterol made by your body is partly influenced by your genes and these genes are shared by your family members.

Even though genetics play a role, families often also share the same eating and lifestyle habits. Some health problems that seem to run in families may be worsened by these unhealthful habits. If you have a genetic tendency to produce more cholesterol, you may still obtain additional benefits from reducing the cholesterol in your diet.

For more, see Cholesterol in Your Blood.

Polyunsaturated Fats and Monounsaturated Fats

Most of the fat that you eat should come from unsaturated sources: polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. In general, nuts, vegetable oils, and fish are sources of unsaturated fats. The table below provides examples of specific types of unsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated Fat SourcesOmega-6 Polyunsaturated Fat SourcesOmega-3 Polyunsaturated Fat Sources
Vegetable oils
Canola oil
Olive oil
High oleic safflower oil
Sunflower oil
Soybean oil
Corn oil
Safflower oil
Soybean oil
Canola oil
Fish: trout, herring, and salmon

Nutrition for EveryonePolyunsaturated fats can also be broken down into two types:

  • Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats -- these fats provide an essential fatty acid that our bodies need, but can't make.
  • Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats -- these fats also provide an essential fatty acid that our bodies need. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids, particularly from fish sources, may have potential health benefits.

For more, see [Controlling Your Polyunsaturated Fat and Monounsaturated Fat Intake]( fats).

Related Information

Controlling Fat in Your Diet
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommend that Americans keep their total fat intake within certain limits.



Nutrition for EveryoneNot sure what to think about carbohydrates these days? You've come to the right section. Here are the facts to separate the hype from the truth about carbohydrates.

Check out the following topics:

  • [What Are Carbohydrates?]([#thisart:What are carbohydrates#])
  • [What Are the Types of Carbohydrates?]([#thisart:types of carbohydrates#])
    • [Complex Carbohydrates]([#thisart:complex carbohydrates#])
      • [Dietary Fiber]([#thisart:dietary fiber#])
    • [Simple Carbohydrates (Sugars)]([#thisart:Simple Carbohydrates#])
  • [How Much Carbohydrate Do I Need?]([#thisart:How much carbohydrate do I need#])

What Are Carbohydrates?

Your body uses carbohydrates (carbs) to make glucose which is the fuel that gives you energy and helps keep everything going.

Your body can use glucose immediately or store it in your liver and muscles for when it is needed.

You can find carbohydrates in the following:

  • Nutrition for EveryoneFruits
  • Vegetables
  • Breads, cereals, and other grains
  • Milk and milk products
  • Foods containing added sugars (e.g., cakes, cookies, and sugar-sweetened beverages).

Healthier foods higher in carbohydrates include ones that provide dietary fiber and whole grains as well as those without added sugars.

What about foods higher in carbohydrates such as sodas and candies that also contain added sugars? Those are the ones that add extra calories but not many nutrients to your diet.

Quick Q& A
I've heard there are "good" carbs and "bad" carbs? Can you provide me more information?
Some diet books use "bad" carbs to talk about foods with refined carbohydrates (i.e., meaning they're made from white flour and added sugars).

Examples include white bread, cakes, and cookies.

"Good" carbs is used to describe foods that have more fiber and complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are carbohydrates that take longer to break down into glucose.

These terms aren't used in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. Instead, the guidelines recommend choosing fiber-rich carbohydrate choices from the vegetable, fruit, and grain groups and avoid added sugars.

It is also recommended that at least half of your daily grain choices are whole grains.

Nutrition for EveryoneTo learn more about a meal plan that includes fiber-rich carbohydrates, visit

With this plan, you can also choose to have small amounts of added sugars and count them as discretionary calories.

What Are the Types of Carbohydrates?

There are two main types of carbohydrates:

  • Complex carbohydrates
  • Simple carbohydrates

Complex Carbohydrates

Starch and dietary fiber are the two types of complex carbohydrates.

Starch must be broken down through digestion before your body can use it as a glucose source.

Quite a few foods contain starch and dietary fiber such as breads, cereals, and vegetables:

  • Nutrition for EveryoneStarch is in certain vegetables (i.e., potatoes, dry beans, peas, and corn).
  • Starch is also found in breads, cereals, and grains.
  • Dietary fiber is in vegetables, fruits, and whole grain foods.
Whole Grains
Whole grains are a good source of fiber and nutrients. Whole grains refer to grains that have all of the parts of the grain seed (sometimes called the kernel). These parts of the kernel are called the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.

If the whole grain has been cracked, crushed, or flaked (as in cracked whole grain bread or flake cereal), then the whole grain must still have about the same proportions of bran, germ, and endosperm to be called a whole grain.1

When whole grains are processed, some of the dietary fiber and other important nutrients are removed. A processed grain is called a "refined" grain.

Some refined grain products have key nutrients, such as folic acid and iron, which were removed during the initial processing and added back. These are called enriched grains. White rice and white bread are enriched grain products.

Some enriched grain foods have extra nutrients added. These are called fortified grains.2

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that you try to make at least half of your daily grain choices as whole grains.

Dietary Fiber

You may have seen dietary fiber on the label listed as soluble fiber or insoluble fiber.

Soluble fiber is found in the following:

  • Oatmeal
  • Oat bran
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Most fruits (e.g., strawberries, blueberries, pears, and apples)
  • Dry beans and peas

Insoluble fiber found in the following:

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Couscous
  • Bulgur or whole grain cereals
  • Wheat bran
  • Seeds
  • Most vegetables
  • Fruits

Nutrition for Everyone

Which type is best? Both! Each has important health benefits so eat a variety of these foods to get enough of both. You're also more likely to get other nutrients that you might miss if you just chose 1 or 2 high-fiber foods.

How Much Dietary Fiber Do I Need Each Day?
It's recommended that you get 14 grams of dietary fiber for every 1,000 calories that you consume each day. If you need 2,000 calories each day, you should try to include 28 grams of dietary fiber.

To find out how many calories you need each day, visit and enter your age, sex, height, weight, and activity level in the My Pyramid Plan tool. Then refer to the Easy Fiber Estimator to find how many grams you need.

Easy Dietary Fiber Estimator
Daily calorie
Daily dietary
fiber needs
100014 grams
120017 grams
140020 grams
160022 grams
180025 grams
200028 grams
220031 grams
240034 grams
260036 grams
280039 grams
300042 grams

At first, you may find it challenging to eat all of your daily fiber grams. Just take it slowly and try to choose higher-fiber foods more often. Over time, you'll gradually be eating more fiber!

Grains Galore!
Here are some explanations of less-familiar grains:3

Bulgur. A staple of Middle Eastern dishes. Bulgur wheat consists of kernels that have been steamed, dried, and crushed. It has a tender and chewy texture.

Millet. A staple grain in parts of Africa and Asia. Millet comes in several varieties and has a bland flavor that is a background to other seasonings.

Quinoa. A grain that has been traditionally used in South American cuisine. Its texture has been compared to that of couscous.

Triticale. A grain that is a hybrid of wheat and rye. It comes in several varieties including whole berry, flakes, and flour.

Try these tips to jumpstart your intake of dietary fiber:

  • Choose whole fruits more often than fruit juice. Fresh, frozen, or canned -- it doesn't matter -- they all count!
  • Try to eat two vegetables with your evening meal.
  • Keep a bowl of veggies already washed and prepared your refrigerator -- try carrots, cucumbers, or celery for a quick snack.
  • Make a meal around dried beans or peas (also called legumes) instead of meat. Check for some new ideas.
  • Choose whole grain foods more often. Take a look at the "whole grains buzz words list" below to help you decide. A good guide is to make at least ? of your grain choices be whole grains.
  • Start your day with a whole grain breakfast cereal low in added sugar. Top your cereal with fruit for even more fiber. While bananas may come to your mind first, you can add even more variety by also trying sliced peaches or berries. You can often find these fruits year-round in the frozen foods section of your grocery store.

Whole Grain "Buzz Words"

You can find out if the food you are eating is made of whole grains by looking at the ingredients list of the food label. The whole grain should be the first ingredient listed. The following are some examples of how whole grains could be listed:

  • brown rice
  • buckwheat
  • bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • millet
  • wild rice
  • popcorn*
  • quinoa
  • triticale
  • whole-grain barley
  • whole-grain corn
  • whole oats/oatmeal
  • whole rye
  • whole wheat

*Popcorn is a whole grain that can have added fat and salt. Try air-popping your popcorn to avoid these extras. If you're buying microwave popcorn, look for a lower-fat variety. You may also want to try the snack size bag to help with portion control.

Nutrition for EveryoneSimple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates include sugars found naturally in foods such as fruits, vegetables milk, and milk products. Simple carbohydrates also include sugars added during food processing and refining.4 What's the difference? In general, foods with added sugars have fewer nutrients than foods with naturally-occurring sugars.

How Can I Avoid Added Sugars?
One way to avoid these sugars is to read the ingredient lists on food labels.

Look for these ingredients as added sugars:5

  • Brown sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Malt Syrup
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar
  • Syrup

If you see any of these in the ingredient list, you know the food has added sugars. The closer to the top of the list, the more of that sugar is in the food.

You can learn more about sugars on the food label by visiting How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label.

Other tips for avoiding added sugars include --

  • Choose water instead of sugar-sweetened sodas.
  • Choose 4 fluid ounces (1/2 cup) of 100% fruit juice rather than a fruit drink.
  • Have a piece of fruit for dessert and skip desserts with added sugar.
  • Choose breakfast cereals that contain no or less added sugars.

If you want to learn more about avoiding added sugar in what you drink, check out Re-think your Drink.

You probably already know sugars and starches can play a role in causing cavities. But it's worth mentioning again, particularly as far as kids are concerned. Be sure to also brush, floss, and drink fluoridated water to help prevent cavities.

How Much Carbohydrate Do I Need?

Your best approach is to follow a meal plan that gives you 45% to 65% of the calories as carbohydrates. How do you do this? Check out these two meal plans: or DASH eating plan. Both of these can give you the calories you need and the right amounts of carbohydrate.

  • lets you enter your age, sex, height, weight, and activity level to get a meal plan specific to your calorie needs.
  • DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Eating Plan provides a healthy eating plan with menu examples and recipes to get you started.
  • HHS Health Facts: Choose Carbohydrates Wisely explains why it's important to choose carbohydrates wisely.


  1. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005 (pg 25).
  2. DHHS, A Healthier You, (pg 43).
  3. Barron's Food Lover's Companion. Copyright ? 2001 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine & NIH. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Carbohydrates.
  5. DHHS, A Healthier You, (pg 55).



Nutrition for EveryoneWhat do you think about when you hear the word protein? Maybe it's an ad for some protein shake that promises massive muscles? Or is it the last high-protein diet craze you read about? With all this talk about protein, you might think Americans were at risk for not eating enough. In fact, most of us eat more protein than we need. Protein is in many foods that we eat on a regular basis.

This section will help you learn more about protein. You'll find information about what foods have protein and what happens when we eat more protein than we need.

To continue, check out the following topics:

  • [What Is Protein?]([#thisart:What is protein#])
  • [What Are the Types of Protein?]([#thisart:Types of protein#])
  • [How Much Protein Do I Need?]([#thisart:How much protein#])

What Is Protein?

Proteins are part of every cell, tissue, and organ in our bodies. These body proteins are constantly being broken down and replaced. The protein in the foods we eat is digested into amino acids that are later used to replace these proteins in our bodies.

Protein is found in the following foods:

  • meats, poultry, and fish
  • legumes (dry beans and peas)
  • tofu
  • eggs
  • nuts and seeds
  • milk and milk products
  • grains, some vegetables, and some fruits (provide only small amounts of protein relative to other sources)

As we mentioned, most adults in the United States get more than enough protein to meet their needs. It's rare for someone who is healthy and eating a varied diet to not get enough protein.

What Are the Types of Protein?

Proteins are made up of amino acids. Think of amino acids as the building blocks. There are 20 different amino acids that join together to make all types of protein. Some of these amino acids can't be made by our bodies, so these are known as essential amino acids. It's essential that our diet provide these.

In the diet, protein sources are labeled according to how many of the essential amino acids they provide:

  • A complete protein source is one that provides all of the essential amino acids. You may also hear these sources called high quality proteins. Animal-based foods; for example, meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, and cheese are considered complete protein sources.

Nutrition for Everyone

  • An incomplete protein source is one that is low in one or more of the essential amino acids. Complementary proteins are two or more incomplete protein sources that together provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids.

Nutrition for Everyone

For example, rice contains low amounts of certain essential amino acids; however, these same essential amino acids are found in greater amounts in dry beans. Similarly, dry beans contain lower amounts of other essential amino acids that can be found in larger amounts in rice. Together, these two foods can provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids the body needs.

Quick Q& A
Is it true that complementary proteins must be eaten together to count as a complete protein source?
In the past, it was thought that these complementary proteins needed to be eaten at the same meal for your body to use them together. Now studies show that your body can combine complementary proteins that are eaten within the same day.1

How Much Protein Do I Need?

Maybe you've wondered how much protein you need each day. In general, it's recommended that 10?35% of your daily calories come from protein. Below are the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for different age groups.2

Recommended Dietary Allowance for Protein
 Grams of protein
needed each day
Children ages 1 ? 313
Children ages 4 ? 819
Children ages 9 ? 1334
Girls ages 14 ? 1846
Boys ages 14 ? 1852
Women ages 19 ? 70+46
Men ages 19 ? 70+56

Here are examples of amounts of protein in food:

  • 1 cup of milk has 8 grams of protein
  • A 3-ounce piece of meat has about 21 grams of protein
  • 1 cup of dry beans has about 16 grams of protein
  • An 8-ounce container of yogurt has about 11 grams of protein

Added together, just these four sources would meet the protein needs of an adult male (56 grams). This doesn't count all the other foods that add smaller amounts of protein to his diet.

Rather than just focusing on your protein needs, choose an overall healthy eating plan that provides the protein you need as well as other nutrients.

Nutrition for is a Web site that lets you enter your age, sex, height, weight, and activity level to determine your calorie needs and get a customized meal plan right for you. This plan will also tell you the amounts you need from the meat and beans group and the milk group, which are foods to help meet your protein needs.

Nutrition for Everyone DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Eating Plan provides a healthy eating plan with menu examples and recipes to get you started.

To help you get the amounts of protein you need:

Is There Any Harm in Getting More Protein Than I Need?
Nutrition for EveryoneMost people eat more protein than they need without harmful effects However, protein contributes to calorie intake, so if you eat more protein than you need, your overall calorie intake could be greater than your calorie needs and contribute to weight gain.

Besides that, animal sources of protein can be sources of saturated fat which has been linked to elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease.

In addition, for people with certain kidney diseases, a lower-protein diet may be recommended to help prevent an impairment in kidney function.

Source: NIH Medical Encyclopedia

  • Compare the amount of meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, and seeds you are eating per day to what is recommended. As an example, if you refer to, a 48-year-old female who is active less than 30 minutes a day only needs about 5 ounces each day from the meat and beans group. Some pre-cut slices of meat and poultry, such as a pork chop or chicken breast, can be four to five ounces each. You can see how it would be easy to eat too much.
  • Save your money and don't buy the protein supplements. If you're healthy, you probably get all the protein you need from your diet.

To help you make lower-fat protein choices --

  • Choose meats that are leaner cuts and trim away any fat you can see. For chicken and turkey, remove the skin to reduce fat.
  • Substitute pinto or black beans for meat in chili and tacos.
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt.
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free cheese.
  • Choose egg whites or pasteurized egg white products.

What If I Am a Vegetarian?
Because some vegetarians avoid eating all (or most) animal foods, they must rely on plant-based sources of protein to meet their protein needs. With some planning, a vegetarian diet can easily meet the recommended protein needs of adults and children. includes meal planning resources for vegetarians. See Vegetarian Choices and Vegetarian Diets for more information.


  1. Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian diets. JADA, 2003; 103(6) 748 ? 765.
  2. Source for Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) reference and RDAs: Institute of Medicine (IOM) Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. This report may be accessed via

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins are organic substances (made by plants or animals), minerals are inorganic elements that come from the earth; soil and water and are absorbed by plants. Animals and humans absorb minerals from the plants they eat. Vitamins and minerals are nutrients that your body needs to grow and develop normally.

Nutrition for EveryoneVitamins and minerals, have a unique role to play in maintaining your health. For example Vitamin D helps your body absorb the amount of calcium (a mineral) it needs to form strong bones. A deficiency in vitamin D can result in a disease called rickets (softening of the bones caused by the bodies inability to absorb the mineral calcium.) The body cannot produce calcium; therefore, it must be absorbed through our food. Other minerals like chromium, copper, iodine, iron, selenium, and zinc are called trace minerals because you only need very small amounts of them each day. The best way to get enough vitamins is to eat a balanced diet with a variety of foods. You can usually get all your vitamins from the foods you eat.

NIH, Vitamin and Mineral Supplement Fact Sheets
These fact sheets provide information about the role of vitamins and minerals in health and disease:

Many products are marketed as dietary supplements. It is important to remember that supplements include vitamins and minerals, as well as herbs, botanicals and other substances. For more information about dietary supplements see:

Related Information

CDC, Calcium and Bone Health
Bones play many roles in the body. They provide structure, protect organs, anchor muscles, and store calcium. Adequate calcium consumption and weight bearing physical activity build strong bones, optimizes bone mass, and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis later in life.

CDC, Iron and Iron Deficiency
Iron is a mineral needed by our bodies. Iron is a part of all cells and does many things in our bodies. For example, iron (as part of the protein hemoglobin) carries oxygen from our lungs throughout our bodies. Having too little hemoglobin is called anemia. Although anemia has a number of causes, iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia.

Sodium and Potassium
Nearly all Americans eat too much salt (sodium). Most of the salt comes from eating processed foods (75%), or adding salt to food while cooking and using the salt shaker at meals (5% to 10%). On average, the more salt a person eats, the higher his or her blood pressure.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and Vegetables"Eat your fruits and vegetables." You've likely heard this statement since childhood. Research shows why it is good advice:

  • Healthy diets rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.
  • Fruits and vegetables also provide essential vitamins and minerals, fiber, and other substances that are important for good health.
  • Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and are filling.

Need some new ideas for adding more fruits and vegetables to your daily diet?

  • Nutrition for EveryoneCheck out Fruits & Veggies Matter for tips, recipes, and more! You can find easy ways to add more fruits and vegetables into your daily eating patterns. Visit the fruit and vegetable of the month pages to find seasonal fruits and vegetables, preparation tips, and great recipes.
  • In addition, you can find many new ideas in our recipe database. The database enables you to find exciting fruit and vegetable recipes that fit your needs. Searching by meal, by ingredient, or by cooking needs is easy.

Not sure how many fruits and vegetables you should be eating each day?

  • Visit Fruits & Veggies Matter's fruit and vegetable calculator. Here you can calculate your fruit and vegetable recommendations based on your calorie needs for your age, sex, and activity level. This site also has helpful tips and photographs of 1/2 cup and 1 cup fruit and vegetable examples.
  • Nutrition for EveryoneYou can also visit to find more information about vegetable sub-groups and tips and ideas for fitting healthy foods into into an overall eating plan.

Curious as to whether fruits and vegetables can help you manage your weight?

  • Take a look at this How to Use Fruits and Vegetables to Help Manage your Weight brochure and learn about fruits and vegetables and their role in your weight management plan. Tips to cut calories by substituting fruits and vegetables are included with meal-by-meal examples. You will also find snack ideas that are 100 calories or less. With these helpful tips, you will soon be on your way to adding more fruits and vegetables into your healthy eating plan.

Resources for Everyone

On This Page

We also have:

General Nutrition Information

Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005
Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published jointly by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA), provides advice about how good dietary habits for people aged 2 years and older can promote health and reduce risk for major chronic diseases.
Also available, a brochure for consumers: Finding Your Way to a Healthier You: Based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans

**FirstGov for Consumers
**A "one-stop" link to a broad range of federal information resources available online. See Food and Health links for information on nutrition and disease-related topics.

Food and Nutrition Topics from A to Z
This USDA site lets you search food and nutrition topics in both simple and detailed ways. Include topics from A to Z.

Glossary of Obesity, Physical Activity and Weight Control
Weight Control Information Network provides definitions of many terms used on this site.

Interactive Tool Box
The USDA Interactive Toolbox contains links to Web sites that allow consumers and professionals to input information and receive individual feedback to help with dietary assessment and planning, checking personal health risks, testing knowledge, and evaluating needs.

Make Your Calories Count
This presentation from the USDA helps explain the basics of the nutrition facts label.

Mayo Clinic, Healthy Living Centers
Information and tools about a variety of health topics from Mayo Clinic, including nutrition and healthy recipes.

Nutrition for
The new Department of Agriculture (USDA) food pyramid replaces "one size fits all" with a customizable eating plan. Explore the new pyramid to learn about the food groups and to see how much you need to eat.

**MyPyramid Tracker
**MyPyramid Tracker is Department of Agriculture's (USDA) online dietary and physical activity assessment tool that provides information on your diet quality, physical activity status, related nutrition messages, and links to nutrient and physical activity information.

Portion Distortion!
To see if you know how today's portions compare to the portions available 20 years ago, quiz yourself on National Institutes of Health (NIH) Portion Distortion.

Healthy Recipes

**Delicious Decisions
**From the American Heart Association (AHA).

Delicious Heart Healthy Latino Recipes/Platillos latinos sabrosos y saludables
Latino recipes in English and Spanish from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Fruit & Veggies Matter
CDC's site provides easy ways and recipe ideas to add more fruits and vegetables into your daily eating patterns.

**A Healthier You
**Here are almost 100 easy-to-make, fun, and delicious recipes based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. No advanced cooking skills required, and they taste great.

Heart-Healthy Home Cooking: African American Style
From the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
Keep the Beat: Heart Healthy Recipes
From the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Meals Matter
Developed by the Dairy Council of California, this site has recipes, personal nutrition planner, fitness planner and more.
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Web site provides a list of delicious recipes the whole family will enjoy -- from appetizers to desserts.

**Stay Young at Heart
**Cooking the heart-healthy way, by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Dietary Supplements

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
The US Food and Drug Administration answers common questions regarding dietary supplements; for example, What is a dietary supplement? How are dietary supplements regulated?

Office of Dietary Supplements
National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides information on dietary supplements.

Nutrition for Children

Both babies and mothers gain many benefits from breastfeeding. CDC's Breastfeeding site has frequently asked questions, recommendations, national breastfeeding statistics as well as information on a variety of other topics. You can also find links to other breastfeeding resources.

**Empowering Youth with Nutrition & Physical Activity
**Empowering Youth is a Department of Agriculture (USDA) manual for use in after school programs and classrooms with youth 11-18 years old. It contains current nutrition and physical activity information to enhance leader knowledge; fun, hands-on activities that teach nutrition concepts; ideas to include nutrition education and physical activity into youth programs and events.

Food and Nutrition Fun 2008
USDA's resource for parents, teachers, educators, and child care providers interested in materials that will create a food and nutrition awareness in children while teaching them the ABC's of healthy eating:
For Preschoolers
For Elementary Age Children

La Leche League International
The La Leche League International mission is to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother.

We Can!
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) offers a national education program designed for parents and caregivers to help children 8-13 years old stay at a healthy weight. The booklet "Finding the Balance: A Parent Resources" offers an array of easy to use practical tips and tools for parents and guardians to help their children and families eat healthy, increase physical activity, and decrease screen time.

Women's Breastfeeding site
Health and Human Services' (HHS) resources for breastfeeding mothers including questions and answers about breast feeding as a well as a breastfeeding helpline phone number.

Sites Especially for Kids

BAM! Body and Mind**BAM!
**Designed for kids 9?13 years old, CDC's BAM! Body and Mind gives them the information they need to make healthy lifestyle choices.

The Incredible Adventures of the Amazing Food Detective
Kaiser Permanente's interactive detective game takes children (ages 9-10) through activities that show how to choose healthy foods and how to get more active. Amazing Food Detective also includes an array of features that get kids moving and away from the computer, such as an automatic shut-off function after 20 minutes that reminds kids to get active, printable scavenger hunts, and family activities that encourage better eating habits.

Eat Smart. Play Hard.**Eat Smart. Play Hard.**™
Department of Agriculture (USDA)'s site encouraging and teaching kids and adults to eat healthy and be physically active everyday.
Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) promotes healthy, positive behaviors among girls between the ages of 10 and 16. The purpose of the site is to give girls reliable, useful information on the health issues they will face as they become young women, and tips on handling relationships with family and friends, at school and at home.

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sponsors this national public education campaign to help encourage and motivate 9- to 13- year-old girls to make the most of their lives. Girl Power! seeks to reinforce and sustain positive values among girls ages 9-13 by targeting health messages to the unique needs, interests, and challenges of girls.

Kids Health
Created by The Nemours Foundation's Center for Children's Health Media, KidsHealth provides information for kids written in age-appropriate content and tone.

Media-Smart Youth: Eat, Think, and Be Active!
National Institute of Health (NIH) created this interactive after-school education program for young people ages 11 to 13 is designed to help teach them about the complex media world around them, and how it can affect their health -- especially in the areas of nutrition and physical activity.

food pyramidMyPyramid for Kids
Go here to play Department of Agriculture's (USDA) MyPyramid Blast-off game and find other materials designed for elementary school-aged children.

Carla and friendsPowerful Bones. Powerful Girls.™ site for Girls
CDC's girl-friendly Web site helps girls understand how weight-bearing physical activity and calcium can be a fun and important part of everyday life.
Also available for Parents.

Smallstep for Kids
Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) child-focused site offers nutritional advice, games and activity suggestions for children and parents as part of the obesity prevention campaign. The computer-animated character Shrek encourages kids to go out an play.

Fruit and Vegetable Information

Body and Soul
The NIH, National Cancer Institute's (HHS) Body and Soul is a health program developed for African American churches. The program encourages church members to eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables every day for better health.
CDC's site provides easy ways and recipe ideas to add more fruits and vegetables into your daily eating patterns.

How to Use Fruits and Vegetables to Manage Your Weight
CDC provides information about fruits and vegetables and their role in your weight management plan. Tips to cut calories by substituting fruits and vegetables are included with meal-by-meal examples. You will also find snack ideas that are 100 calories or less.

Food Safety Information

Food Safety
Preventing foodborne illness and death remains a major public health challenge.

  • CDC Food Safety
  • FDA Safe Handling of Fruits and Vegetables
  • FDA News and Alerts

Disease-Specific Organizations

American Cancer Society*
Nutrition information for cancer patients before, during, and after cancer treatment.

American Diabetes Association
Nutrition information and recipes for individuals interested in managing diabetes.

American Heart Association
Healthy lifestyle information to help decrease risk for cardiovascular disease.

The DASH Eating Plan
"DASH" stands for "Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension," National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's (NHLBI) clinical study that tested the effects of nutrients in food on blood pressure. Study results indicated that elevated blood pressures were reduced by an eating plan that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods and is low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol.

National Osteoporosis Foundation
Tips and information that may help prevent osteoporosis.