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A healthier you—with a little help from Uncle Sam

Bookstores are filled with diet manuals written by doctors, fitness experts and celebrities. The U.S. government has its own version of a diet manual, too—Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which offers the latest science-based advice on how to improve health and avoid disease by eating right and exercising.

While the full report runs more than 70 pages, the government’s emphasis can be summed up in three key points:

  1. Get more exercise.
  2. Eat foods with the right nutrients.
  3. Limit your intake of certain foods.

Get more exercise

How much exercise do you need? Specifically:

  • To reduce your risk of chronic disease, get at least 30 minutes of physical activity at moderate intensity on most days.
  • To maintain your weight and avoid packing on pounds, get at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity on most days.
  • To lose weight, get at least 60 to 90 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every day.

Eat foods with the right nutrients

The guidelines call for boosting your intake of fruits and vegetables, whole-grain foods and calcium. Based on an average daily calorie intake of 2,000, the guidelines recommend eating:

  • 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables a day. Strive for a rich variety. Include dark green and orange choices, legumes and starchy vegetables.
  • at least 3 ounces of whole-grain foods a day. At least half the grains you eat each day should be from fiber-rich whole grains. Examples include whole-wheat bread, whole-grain cereal, oats, brown rice, barley and popcorn.
  • 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese will give you the calcium you need for strong bones.

Limit intake of certain foods

As you increase your intake of healthier foods, cut back or eliminate these less ideal choices:

  • Fats. Limit fats to between 20 percent and 25 percent of daily calories with most coming from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated choices, such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils.
  • Sugars. A lot of sugar and calories sneak into our diets through beverages, even seemingly healthy choices like juices. Opt for food and beverages with little added sugars or caloric sweeteners.
  • Salt. Limit daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg)—about one teaspoon of salt. Adults ages 50 and up, African-Americans and people with high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease need less sodium, about 1,500 mg a day.
  • Alcohol. If you drink, do so in moderation—no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.

Visit for the complete report, as well as an informational booklet, A Healthier You, which offers recipes and tips on how to make the guidelines work for you.