Fats supply energy and
essential fatty acids, and they help absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D,
E, and K, and carotenoids. You need some fat in the food you eat, but
choose sensibly. Some kinds of fat, especially saturated fats, increase
the risk for coronary heart disease by raising the blood cholesterol (see
15). In contrast, unsaturated fats (found mainly in vegetable oils) do
not increase blood cholesterol. Fat intake in the United States as a
proportion of total calories is lower than it was many years ago, but most
people still eat too much saturated fat. Eating lots of fat of any type
can provide excess calories.
Choose foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol
16 for tips on limiting the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol
you get from your food. Taking these steps can go a long way in helping to
keep your blood cholesterol level low.
KNOW THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF FATS
Foods high in saturated fats tend to raise blood cholesterol.
These foods include high-fat dairy products (like cheese, whole
milk, cream, butter, and regular ice cream), fatty fresh and
processed meats, the skin and fat of poultry, lard, palm oil, and
coconut oil. Keep your intake of these foods low.
Foods that are high in cholesterol also tend to raise blood
cholesterol. These foods include liver and other organ meats, egg
yolks, and dairy fats.
Trans Fatty Acids
Foods high in trans fatty acids tend to raise blood
cholesterol. These foods include those high in partially
hydrogenated vegetable oils, such as many hard margarines and
shortenings. Foods with a high amount of these ingredients include
some commercially fried foods and some bakery goods.
Unsaturated fats (oils) do not raise blood cholesterol.
Unsaturated fats occur in vegetable oils, most nuts, olives,
avocados, and fatty fish like salmon. Unsaturated oils include both
monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Olive,
canola, sunflower, and peanut oils are some of the oils high in
monounsaturated fats. Vegetable oils such as soybean oil, corn oil,
and cottonseed oil and many kinds of nuts are good sources of
polyunsaturated fats. Some fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel,
contain omega-3 fatty acids that are being studied to determine if
they offer protection against heart disease. Use moderate amounts of
food high in unsaturated fats, taking care to avoid excess
FOOD CHOICES LOW IN SATURATED FAT AND
CHOLESTEROL AND MODERATE IN TOTAL FAT
Get most of your calories from plant foods (grains, fruits,
vegetables). If you eat foods high in saturated fat for a special
occasion, return to foods that are low in saturated fat the next
Fats and Oils
- Choose vegetable oils rather than solid fats (meat and dairy
- If you need fewer calories, decrease the amount of fat you use
in cooking and at the table.
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Shellfish, Eggs, Beans, and Nuts
- Choose 2 to 3 servings of fish, shellfish, lean poultry, other
lean meats, beans, or nuts daily. Trim fat from meat and take skin
off poultry. Choose dry beans, peas, or lentils often.
- Limit your intake of high-fat processed meats such as bacon,
sausages, salami, bologna, and other cold cuts. Try the lower fat
varieties (check the Nutrition Facts Label).
- Limit your intake of liver and other organ meats. Use egg
yolks and whole eggs in moderation. Use egg whites and egg
substitutes freely when cooking since they contain no cholesterol
and little or no fat.
- Choose fat-free or low-fat milk, fat-free or low-fat yogurt,
and low-fat cheese most often. Try switching from whole to
fat-free or low-fat milk. This decreases the saturated fat and
calories but keeps all other nutrients the same.
- Check the Nutrition Facts Label to see how much saturated fat
and cholesterol are in a serving of prepared food. Choose foods
lower in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Foods at Restaurants or Other Eating Establishments
- Choose fish or lean meats as suggested above. Limit ground
meat and fatty processed meats, marbled steaks, and cheese.
- Limit your intake of foods with creamy sauces, and add little
or no butter to your food.
- Choose fruits as desserts most often.
Following the tips in the box above will help you keep your intake of
saturated fat at less than 10 percent of calories. They will also help you
keep your cholesterol intake less than the Daily Value of 300 mg/day
listed on the Nutrition
Facts Label. If you want more flexibility, see box
17, below, to find out your saturated fat limit in grams. The maximum
number of saturated fat grams depends on the amount of calories you get
daily. Use Nutrition Facts Labels to find out how much saturated fat is in
prepared foods. If you choose one food that is higher in saturated
fat, make your other choices lower in saturated fat. This will help you
stay under your saturated fat limit for the day.
WHAT IS YOUR UPPER LIMIT ON FAT FOR THE
CALORIES YOU CONSUME?
|Total Calories per Day
||Saturated Fat in Grams
||Total Fat in Grams|
||18 or less
||20 or less
||24 or less
||25 or less
||31 or less
Percent Daily Values on Nutrition Facts
Labels are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Values for 2,000 and
2,500 calories are rounded to the nearest 5 grams to be
consistent with the Nutrition Facts
Different forms of the same food may be very different in their content
of saturated fat. Box
18 provides some examples. Try to choose the forms of food that are
lower in saturated fat most often.
Keep total fat intake moderate
Aim for a total fat intake of no more than 30 percent of calories, as
recommended in previous editions of the Guidelines. If you need to reduce
your fat intake to achieve this level, do so primarily by cutting back on
saturated and trans fats. Check box 17 to find out how many grams
of fat you can have for the number of calories you need. For example, at
2,200 calories per day, your suggested upper limit on fat intake would be
about 73 grams. If you are at a healthy weight and you eat little
saturated fat, you'll have leeway to eat some plant foods that are high in
unsaturated fats. To see if you need to lose weight, see the guideline "Aim
for a Healthy Weight."
Advice for children
Advice in the previous sections applies to children who are 2 years of
age or older. It does not apply to infants and toddlers below the age of 2
years. Beginning at age 2, children should get most of their calories from
grain products; fruits; vegetables; low-fat dairy products; and beans,
lean meat and poultry, fish, or nuts. Be careful, nuts may cause choking
in 2 to 3 year olds.
ADVICE FOR TODAY
To reduce your intake of saturated fat and cholesterol:
||Limit use of solid fats, such as butter, hard
margarines, lard, and partially hydrogenated shortenings. Use
vegetable oils as a substitute.|
||Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products, cooked
dry beans and peas, fish, and lean meats and poultry.|
||Eat plenty of grain products, vegetables, and
||Use the Nutrition Facts Label to help choose foods
lower in fat, saturated fat, and
|Box 18 |
A COMPARISON OF SATURATED FAT IN SOME
||Saturated Fat Content in Grams |
|Regular Cheddar cheese
Low-fat Cheddar cheese*
|Regular ground beef
Extra lean ground beef*
|3 oz. cooked
3 oz. cooked
Low-fat (1%) milk*
|Regular ice cream
NOTE: The food categories listed are among the
major food sources of saturated fat for U.S. adults and
* Choice that is lower in saturated
Choose beverages and foods to moderate your intake of
Sugars are carbohydrates and a
source of energy (calories). Dietary carbohydrates also include the
complex carbohydrates starch and dietary fiber. During digestion all
carbohydrates except fiber break down into sugars. Sugars and starches
occur naturally in many foods that also supply other nutrients. Examples
of these foods include milk, fruits, some vegetables, breads, cereals, and
Sugars and tooth decay
Foods containing sugars and starches can promote tooth decay. The
amount of bacteria in your mouth and lack of exposure to fluorides also
promote tooth decay. These bacteria use sugars and starches to produce the
acid that causes tooth decay. The more often you eat foods that contain
sugars and starches, and the longer these foods remain in your mouth
before you brush your teeth, the greater your risk for tooth decay.
Frequent eating or drinking sweet or starchy foods between meals is more
likely to harm teeth than eating the same foods at meals and then
brushing. Daily dental hygiene, including brushing with fluoride
toothpaste and flossing, and adequate intake of fluorides will help
prevent tooth decay. Follow the tips in box
for healthy teeth.
FOR HEALTHY TEETH AND GUMS
- Between meals, eat few foods or beverages containing
sugars or starches. If you do eat them, brush your teeth
afterward to reduce risk of tooth decay.
- Brush at least twice a day and floss daily. Use fluoride
- Ask your dentist or health care provider about the need
for supplemental fluoride, or dental sealants, especially
for children and if your drinking water is not
MAJOR SOURCES* OF ADDED SUGARS IN THE
- Soft drinks
- Cakes, cookies, pies
- Fruitades and drinks such as fruit punch and lemonade
- Dairy desserts such as ice cream
* All kinds,
except diet or
Added sugars are sugars and syrups added to foods in processing or
preparation, not the naturally occurring sugars in foods like fruit or
milk. The body cannot tell the difference between naturally occurring and
added sugars because they are identical chemically. Foods containing added
sugars provide calories, but may have few vitamins and minerals. In the
United States, the number one source of added sugars is nondiet soft
drinks (soda or pop). Sweets and candies, cakes and cookies, and fruit
drinks and fruitades are also major sources of added sugars.
Intake of a lot of foods high in added sugars, like soft drinks, is of
concern. Consuming excess calories from these foods may contribute to
weight gain or lower consumption of more nutritious foods. Use box
20 to identify the most commonly eaten foods that are high in added
sugars (unless they are labeled "sugar free" or "diet"). Limit your use of
these beverages and foods. Drink water to quench your thirst, and offer it
Some foods with added sugars, like chocolate milk, presweetened
cereals, and sweetened canned fruits, also are high in vitamins and
minerals. These foods may provide extra calories along with the nutrients
and are fine if you need the extra calories.
The Nutrition Facts Label gives the content of sugars from all sources
(naturally occurring sugars plus added sugars, if any—see figure
3). You can use the Nutrition Facts Label to compare the amount of
total sugars among similar products. To find out if sugars have been
added, you also need to look at the food label ingredient list. Use box
21 to identify names of some added sugars.
NAMES FOR ADDED SUGARS THAT APPEAR ON FOOD
A food is likely to be high in sugars if one of these names
appears first or second in the ingredient list, or if several names
Fruit juice concentrate
High-fructose corn syrup
|Invert sugar |
Sugar substitutes such as saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium,
and sucralose are extremely low in calories. Some people find them useful
if they want a sweet taste without the calories. Some foods that contain
sugar substitutes, however, still have calories. Unless you reduce the
total calories you eat or increase your physical activity, using sugar
substitutes will not cause you to lose weight.
Sugars and other health issues
Behavior. Intake of sugars does not appear to affect children's
behavior patterns or their ability to learn. Many scientific studies
conclude that sugars do not cause hyperactivity in children.
Weight control. Foods that are high in sugars but low in
essential nutrients primarily contribute calories to the diet. When you
take in extra calories and don't offset them by increasing your physical
activity, you will gain weight. As you aim for a healthy weight and
fitness, keep an eye on portion size for all foods and beverages, not only
those high in sugars. See box
ADVICE FOR TODAY
||Choose sensibly to limit your intake of beverages
and foods that are high in added sugars.|
||Get most of your calories from grains (especially
whole grains), fruits and vegetables, low-fat or non-fat dairy
products, and lean meats or meat substitutes.|
||Take care not to let soft drinks or other sweets
crowd out other foods you need to maintain health, such as low-fat
milk or other good sources of calcium.|
||Follow the simple tips listed in box
19 to keep your teeth and gums healthy.|
||Drink water often.|
Choose and prepare foods with less
Many people can reduce their
chances of developing high blood pressure by consuming less salt. Several
other steps can also help keep your blood pressure in the healthy range
22). In the body, sodium—which you get mainly from salt—plays an
essential role in regulating fluids and blood pressure. Many studies in
diverse populations have shown that a high sodium intake is associated
with higher blood pressure.
There is no way to tell who might develop high blood pressure from
eating too much salt. However, consuming less salt or sodium is not
harmful and can be recommended for the healthy, normal person (see box
At present, the firmest link between salt intake and health relates to
blood pressure. High salt intake also increases the amount of calcium
excreted in the urine. Eating less salt may decrease the loss of calcium
from bone. Loss of too much calcium from bone increases the risk of
osteoporosis and bone fractures.
STEPS THAT MAY HELP KEEP BLOOD
PRESSURE IN A HEALTHY RANGE
- Choose and prepare foods with less salt.
- Aim for a healthy weight: blood pressure increases with
increases in body weight and decreases when excess weight is
- Increase physical activity: it helps lower blood
pressure, reduce risk of other chronic diseases, and manage
- Eat fruits and vegetables. They are naturally low in
salt and calories. They are also rich in potassium (see box
which may help decrease blood pressure.
- If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.
Excessive alcohol consumption has been associated with high
IS LOWERING SALT INTAKE
- Eating too little salt is not generally a concern for
healthy people. If you are being treated for a chronic
health problem, ask your doctor about whether it is safe for
you to reduce your salt intake.
- Some table salt is fortified with iodine. If you use
table salt to meet your need for iodine, a small
amount—about 1/4 teaspoon of iodized salt—provides more than
half the daily iodine allowance.
- Your body can adjust to prevent too much sodium loss
when you exercise heavily or when it is very hot. However,
if you plan to reduce your salt intake and you exercise
vigorously, it is sensible to decrease gradually the amount
of salt you
Salt is found mainly in processed and prepared foods
Salt (sodium chloride) is the main source of sodium in foods (see box
24). Only small amounts of salt occur naturally in foods. Most of the
salt you eat comes from foods that have salt added during food processing
or during preparation in a restaurant or at home. Some recipes include
table salt or a salty broth or sauce, and some cooking styles call for
adding a very salty seasoning such as soy sauce. Not all foods with added
salt taste salty. Some people add salt or a salty seasoning to their food
at the table. Your preference for salt may decrease if you gradually add
smaller amounts of salt or salty seasonings to your food over a period of
Aim for a moderate sodium intake
Most people consume too much salt, so moderate your salt intake.
Healthy children and adults need to consume only small amounts of salt to
meet their sodium needs—less than 1/4 teaspoon of salt daily. The
Nutrition Facts Label lists a Daily Value of 2,400 mg of sodium per day
3). This is the amount of sodium in about 1 teaspoon of salt. See box
25 for helpful hints on how to keep your sodium intake moderate.
SALT VERSUS SODIUM
- Salt contains sodium. Sodium is a substance that affects blood
- The best way to cut back on sodium is to cut back on salt and
salty foods and seasonings.
- When reading a Nutrition Facts Label, look for the sodium
content (see figure
3). Foods that are low in sodium (less than 5% of the Daily
Value or DV) are low in salt.
WAYS TO DECREASE YOUR SALT
|At the Store
- Choose fresh, plain frozen, or canned vegetables without added
salt most often—they're low in salt.
- Choose fresh or frozen fish, shellfish, poultry, and meat most
often. They are lower in salt than most canned and processed
- Read the Nutrition Facts Label (see figure
3) to compare the amount of sodium in processed foods— such as
frozen dinners, packaged mixes, cereals, cheese, breads, soups,
salad dressings, and sauces. The amount in different types and
brands often varies widely.
- Look for labels that say "low-sodium." They contain 140 mg
(about 5% of the Daily Value) or less of sodium per
- Ask your grocer or supermarket to offer more low sodium foods.
|Cooking and Eating at Home
- If you salt foods in cooking or at the table, add small
amounts. Learn to use spices and herbs, rather than salt, to
enhance the flavor of food.
- Go easy on condiments such as soy sauce, ketchup, mustard,
pickles, and olives—they can add a lot of salt to your
- Leave the salt shaker in a cupboard.
- Choose plain foods like grilled or roasted entrees, baked
potatoes, and salad with oil and vinegar. Batter-fried foods tend
to be high in salt, as do combination dishes like stews or pasta
- Ask to have no salt added when the food is prepared.
- Choose fruits and vegetables often.
- Drink water freely. It is usually very low in sodium. Check
the label on bottled water for sodium content.
ADVICE FOR TODAY
||Choose sensibly to moderate your salt
||Choose fruits and vegetables often. They contain
very little salt unless it is added in processing.|
||Read the Nutrition Facts Label to compare and help
identify foods lower in sodium—especially prepared
||Use herbs, spices, and fruits to flavor food, and
cut the amount of salty seasonings by half.|
||If you eat restaurant foods or fast foods, choose
those that are prepared with only moderated amounts of salt or salty
If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in
Alcoholic beverages supply
calories but few nutrients. Alcoholic beverages are harmful when consumed
in excess, and some people should not drink at all. Excess alcohol alters
judgment and can lead to dependency and a great many other serious health
problems. Taking more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per
day for men (see box
26) can raise the risk for motor vehicle crashes, other injuries, high
blood pressure, stroke, violence, suicide, and certain types of cancer.
Even one drink per day can slightly raise the risk of breast cancer.
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy increases risk of birth defects. Too
much alcohol may cause social and psychological problems, cirrhosis of the
liver, inflammation of the pancreas, and damage to the brain and heart.
Heavy drinkers also are at risk of malnutrition because alcohol contains
calories that may substitute for those in nutritious foods. If adults
choose to drink alcoholic beverages, they should consume them only in
moderation (see box
26)—and with meals to slow alcohol absorption.
WHAT IS DRINKING IN MODERATION?
Moderation is defined as no more than one drink per day for women
and no more than two drinks per day for men. This limit is based on
differences between the sexes in both weight and metabolism.
Count as a drink—
12 ounces of regular beer
5 ounces of wine (100 calories)
1.5 ounces of
80-proof distilled spirits (100 calories)
NOTE: Even moderate drinking provides extra
Drinking in moderation may lower risk for coronary heart disease,
mainly among men over age 45 and women over age 55. However, there are
other factors that reduce the risk of heart disease, including a healthy
diet, physical activity, avoidance of smoking, and maintenance of a
Moderate consumption provides little, if any, health benefit for
younger people. Risk of alcohol abuse increases when drinking starts at an
early age. Some studies suggest that older people may become more
sensitive to the effects of alcohol as they age.
Who should not drink?
Some people should not drink alcoholic beverages at all. These include:
||Children and adolescents. |
||Individuals of any age who cannot restrict
their drinking to moderate levels. This is a special concern for
recovering alcoholics, problem drinkers, and people whose family
members have alcohol problems.|
||Women who may become pregnant or who are
pregnant. A safe level of alcohol intake has not been
established for women at any time during pregnancy, including the
first few weeks. Major birth defects, including fetal alcohol
syndrome, can be caused by heavy drinking by the pregnant mother.
Other fetal alcohol effects may occur at lower levels.|
||Individuals who plan to drive, operate
machinery, or take part in other activities that require attention,
skill, or coordination. Most people retain some alcohol in the
blood up to 2 to 3 hours after a single drink.|
||Individuals taking prescription or
over-the-counter medications that can interact with alcohol.
Alcohol alters the effectiveness or toxicity of many
medications, and some medications may increase blood alcohol levels.
If you take medications, ask your health care provider for advice
about alcohol intake, especially if you are an older
ADVICE FOR TODAY
||If you choose to drink alcoholic beverages, do so
sensibly, and in moderation.|
||Limit intake to one drink per day for women or two
per day for men, and take with meals to slow alcohol
||Avoid drinking before or when driving, or whenever
it puts you or others at risk.|
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