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When combined with exercise, a healthy diet can help you lose weight, lower your cholesterol level and improve the way your body functions on a daily basis.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Guide divides food into 5 basic food groups, consisting of 1) grains, 2) fruits, 3) vegetables, 4) protein, and 5) dairy.

myplate dietary guidelines

Nutrition Guidelines

The following are some ways to make healthier food choices and to get the recommended amounts of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, protein and dairy.


Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products.

Grains are divided into 2 subgroups, Whole Grains and Refined Grains.

Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel ? the bran, germ, and endosperm.

Grains are important sources of many nutrients, including dietary fiber, several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate), and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium).

Health Benefits 

Fruits and Vegetables

Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat, sodium, and calories. None have cholesterol.

Fruits and vegetables are sources of many essential nutrients that are underconsumed, including potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate (folic acid).

Health Benefits


All foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds are considered part of the Protein Foods Group. Beans and peas are also part of the Vegetable Group.

Select a variety of protein foods to improve nutrient intake and health benefits, including at least 8 ounces of cooked seafood per week. 

Health Benefits


Calcium is used for building bones and teeth and in maintaining bone mass. Dairy products are the primary source of calcium in American diets. Diets that provide 3 cups or the equivalent of dairy products per day can improve bone mass.

Health Benefits

Caloric Intake

Different groups of people have different daily calorie needs. 

The following terms are used in the chart below and are defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

The following chart will help you determine the appropriate calorie need for your age, gender and activity level.

myplate dietary guidelines

Choose Nutrient Rich Food

A nutrient-rich food contains many vitamins and minerals (also called micronutrients) but not very many calories. Vitamins and minerals nourish your body and help to keep you healthy and reduce your risk for chronic diseases. You can get these micronutrients through a variety of healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, low-fat and fat-free dairy products, and lean meats and fish. Getting vitamins and minerals through food ensures that your body is able to absorb them properly.

A well balanced diet should contain a variety of nutrient rich food sources. Consult your physician regarding specific dietary needs.

Last Updated May 9, 2012.

Reference: AAFP & USDA