USDA Diet Guidelines: A Cheat Sheet

Dietary recommendations are often confusing. Here we clarify what and how much the USDA suggests to eat. 


Vegetables and fruits should fill up half to two-thirds of your plate. Choose a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green, red, and orange veggies; also favor beans and legumes.

Eat more fish. Replace beef, chicken, and pork with 8 ounces of fish.

Go for fat-free and low-fat dairy. Milk, yogurt, and cheese are components of a healthy diet, but choose low-fat (1 percent) or fat-free versions to cut down on animal-based, long-chain saturated fats—the kind that contribute to heart disease.

Drink water instead of soda. A typical 12-ounce can of soda contains 33 grams or more of added sugar and upward of 150 calories—and healthy-looking juice drinks or sweetened teas may contain 250 calories or more. Instead, hydrate with water or tea; add a splash of citrus or other fruit for flavor.

Slash the salt. Taste buds adjust to less salt in just six weeks. Scrutinize packaged food labels and pass on anything with more than 5 percent of the daily sodium intake (115 mg). When cooking, cut suggested salt amounts in half, and salt at the table after tasting food, not before.

Choose foods in their most natural state: an apple instead of apple juice; baked sweet potato instead of potato chips; oatmeal from rolled or steel-cut oats, not instant.

Enjoy your food, but watch your portions. Try memorizing visual cues for portion sizes: a deck of cards for a serving of meat; a computer mouse for a potato; four dice for a serving of cheese; your thumb tip for a tablespoon of butter.

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