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A Guide to Daily Food Choices

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A Guide to Daily Food Choices

The Food Guide Pyramid is an outline of what to eat each day based on the Dietary Guidelines . It's not a rigid prescription but a general guide that lets you choose a healthful diet that's right for you.

The Pyramid calls for eating a variety of foods to get the nutrients you need and at the same time the right amount of calories to maintain healthy weight.

Use the Pyramid to help you eat better every day...the Dietary Guidelines way. Start with plenty of breads, cereals, rice, pasta (6-11 servings), vegetables (3-5 servings), and fruits (2-4 servings). Add 2-3 servings from the milk group and 2-3 servings from the meat group. Remember to go easy on fats, oils, and sweets, the foods in the small tip of the Pyramid. Teenagers should have three or more servings daily of food rich in calcium.

What Counts as One Serving?

The amount of food that counts as one serving is listed below. If you eat a larger portion, count it as more than 1 serving. For example, a dinner portion of spaghetti would count as 2 or 3 servings of pasta.

Be sure to eat at least the lowest number of servings from the five major food groups listed below. You need them for the vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and protein they provide. Just try to pick the lowest fat choices from the food groups. No specific serving size is given for the fats, oils, and sweets group because the message is

Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese

1 cup of milk or yogurt

1 ½ ounces of natural cheese

2 ounces of process cheese

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts

2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish

1/2 cup of cooked dry beans, 1 egg, or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter count as 1 ounce of lean meat


1 cup of raw leafy vegetables

1/2 cup of other vegetables, cooked or chopped raw

3/4 cup of vegetable juice


1 medium apple, banana, orange

1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit

3/4 cup of fruit juice

Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta

1 slice of bread

1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal

1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs)

For many years the National Research Council of the United States National Academy of Sciences has taken responsibility for establishing guidelines on what quantities of the various nutrients should be eaten by human males and females at various ages. These were called RDAs (for Recommended Dietary Allowances, and often referred to as Recommended Daily Allowances).

However, on August 13, 1997, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy published a report that:

  • set new standards for calcium intake (as well as for Vitamin D, fluoride, magnesium, and phosphorus)

  • dropped the name RDA in favor of Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs)

  • added three new categories:

    • adequate intake ("AI"), where no RDA has been established

    • estimated safe and adequate daily dietary intake ("ESADDI"), expected to satisfy the needs of 50% of the people in that age group)

    • tolerable upper intake levels ("UL"), to caution against excess intake of nutrients - like vitamin D - that can be harmful in large amounts.

As their findings trickle in, here is a table of RDAs for young adult women and men.






50 g

63 g

Pantothenic acid

5 mg


Vitamin A

700 µg*

1000 µg*


100-200 µg


Vitamin D

400 IU*



1200 mg


Vitamin E

30 IU**



700 mg


Vitamin C

75 mg**

90 mg**


320 mg

420 mg


1.1 mg

1.2 mg


15 mg

10 mg


1.1 mg

1.3 mg


12 mg

15 mg


14 mg

16 mg


150 µg


Vitamin B6

1.5 mg

1.7 mg


3 mg

4 mg


400 µg



55 µg

70 µg

Vitamin B12

3 µg



2 g


*to the extent that the vitamin A requirement is met by ingested beta-carotene, these amounts should be multiplied by 6.
*400 IU ("International Units") = 10 µg.
**The upper limit (UL) is 1,000 IU/day.
**Smokers should add 35 mg to these values.Some nutritionists think that the allowances for vitamins C, D, and E are too low.

  • A study published in April 1996 suggests that 200 mg of Vitamin C per day is probably optimal. This is more than twice the current RDA, but far lower than the 2,000 mg/day that is the UL and that some people exceed in the hope of warding off colds, cancer, etc. Furthermore, an in vitro study reported in the 15 June 2001 issue of Science found that a level of vitamin C equivalent to a person consuming only 200 mg a day converts some body lipids into substances that can damage DNA.

  • The National Institute of Medicine has now established the following AIs for vitamin D:

    • 200 IU for adults from age 20 to 50

    • 400 IU for those between 50 and 70

    • 600 IU for those over 70 years of age

However, a study reported in the 19 March 1998 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine indicates that perhaps all adults should receive 800 - 1000 IU (20 to 25 µg) of vitamin D per day.

There is also evidence that beta-carotene has important functions besides being the precursor of vitamin A and therefore should be ingested in amounts greater than needed to meet the vitamin A requirement.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans

  • Eat a variety of foods.

  • No single food provides all the nutrients your body needs in the right amounts.

  • Vary food according to availability, affordability and personal preference.

  • Balance the foods you eat

with physical activity –

maintain a healthy weight.

  • Balance the amount of energy in food with the amount of energy your body uses.

  • Be aware that controlling body fat is more important to health than controlling body weight.

  • Choose a diet with plenty of grain products, vegetables and fruits.

  • These are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and fiber.

  • They are usually low in fats and calories.

  • They provide essential vitamins and minerals.

  • Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

  • Fat should be no more than thirty percent of all calories in your diet.

  • Remove visible fat from food you eat and choose lower-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt.

  • Cut down on fried foods, instead eat roasted, baked, broiled, or grilled foods.

Choose a diet moderate in sugars.

  • Be aware of your intake of sugars and food with added sugars and few nutrients.

  • Learn to identify added sugars by their names on products, such as corn syrup, honey, and sucrose.

  • Eat sweets as part of a meal, rather than as between-meal snacks.

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