The Dietary Guidelines for Americans is a set of nutritional recommendations for the general public living in the United States that focuses on health promotion and disease prevention. It is a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Guidelines are revised and updated every five years; the last one was published in 2010. Policymakers, healthcare providers and nutritionists use these recommendations to design educational materials and nutrition-related programs.

There is a concern that poor nutrition and sedentary lifestyle can contribute to the development of several diseases such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, dyslipidemia[1], type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, constipation, malnutrition and some cancers. Poor dietary habits and lack of physical activity can also result in an energy imbalance (more calories consumed than expended) which leads to weight gain over the years.

The energy requirement for women is somewhere between 1600 and 2400 Kcal[2] a day, depending on age and physical activity levels. When you consume more calories than your body needs, the extra energy is stored as fat. This is a primitive defense mechanism the human body developed in order to survive times of famine. Even though it is very unlikely that we’ll face food shortages nowadays, our body doesn’t know that yet; so overconsumption will  lead to weight gain.

Not only the quantity of food consumed is a concern; quality is also at stake. People generally favor frozen meals, canned goods, pre-packaged snacks and other convenience foods. The problem is that all of them are processed, usually caloric-dense and nutrient-poor, containing whopping amounts of salt, fat (saturated and trans fats), sugar, and other chemicals that we don’t even know what they are for. Americans also consume a great amount of refined grains in the form of breads, pasta, white rice and baked goods. Refined grains are manipulated to enhance texture and flavor, but important nutrients are lost in the process. What remains is basically starch, a form of carbohydrate that is quickly absorbed by the body, causing a spike in blood sugar. The main concern is that the constant exposure to these high-glycemic[3] carbohydrates may lead to insulin resistance, which is a red flag for type 2 diabetes.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) calls attention to the need of consuming nutrient-dense[4]foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat milk and dairy, lean meats, eggs and nuts (in their natural state). However, many Americans are not consuming adequate amounts of certain foods. The intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, milk and milk products, and oils is alarmingly low. The under-consumption of certain food groups and the lack of variety at the table could cause nutritional deficiencies. In fact, some nutrients are a public health concern (vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and dietary fiber). But popping a multi-vitamin pill is not the solution. The DGAC points out that nutrients should come from food sources, meaning that improving your dietary habits should be a top priority. To learn more, visit


[1] Abnormal amount of cholesterol (HDL and LDL) and/or fat (triglycerides) in the blood.

[2] Same as calories.

[3] High-glycemic carbohydrates are the ones that are broken down very quickly by the human body, releasing glucose rapidly into the bloodstream, which is immediately counteracted by the release of insulin. However, chronic insulin spikes have deleterious effects on the body.

[4] According to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, nutrient-dense foods are those that provide substantial amounts of vitamins and minerals, and relatively few calories.