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Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Living

Want to know what to eat to stay healthy? Follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans!  

There are 4 Overarching Guidelines in the 2020-2025 edition of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans:  

  • Follow a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage.

  • Customize and enjoy nutrient-dense food and beverage choices to reflect personal preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations.

  • Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages, and stay within calorie limits.

  • Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages.

Following the key dietary recommendations for good nutrition will help you and your family stay healthy, help you get the nutrients you need each day, and help you make sensible choices that reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases. Check out the information below for simple suggestions to support healthy eating.

Foods and Food Components to Reduce

The 2020-2025 U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend reducing consumption of added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns. Consuming certain foods and food components in excessive amounts may increase your risk of chronic diseases.

Check out the handouts below to find out why and how (*handouts produced by the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion).

Key Dietary Recommendations

  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats.
  • Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium.
  • If alcohol is consumed, it should be limited to one drink or less per day for women and two drinks or less per day for men-and only by adults of legal drinking age. 

Follow a Healthy Eating Pattern 

Choose a healthy eating pattern to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease. Even small changes matter.

Focus on Variety, Nutrient Density, and Amount

To meet nutrient needs, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods (foods that have vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting nutrients, with no or little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium) across and within all food groups in recommended amounts. 

  • Vegetables - Choose a variety of vegetables – dark green; red and orange; beans and peas; and other vegetables. 
  • Fruit - Include fruit, especially whole fruits.
  • Grains - Make sure at least half the intake of grains are whole grains. 
  • Dairy - Include fat-free or low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or lactose-free versions, or fortified soy beverages as an alternative. 
  • Protein - Include a variety of protein foods, such as lean meats and poultry, eggs, seafood, beans and peas, nuts and seeds, and soy products. 
  • Oils – For example, canola, corn, olive, and safflower oils, and oils naturally occurring if foods, such as avocado, nuts, seeds, and seafood are important to consider as part of a healthy eating pattern.

Build a Healthy Plate

Before you eat, think about what goes on your plate or in your cup or bowl. Foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein foods contain the nutrients you need without too much added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium. Try some of these options when building your next meal. 

Shift to Healthier Food and Beverage Choices – Build a Healthy Eating Pattern and Get into a Healthy Eating Routine

Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across and within all food groups in place of less healthy choices. Consider cultural and personal preferences to make these shifts easier to accomplish and maintain. 

*Check out this guide on how to start building a healthy eating routine.

Need help with meal planning?

Download the Start Simple Guide (English)   Start Simple Guide (Spanish)


Customize Your Eating Plan with Free MyPlate Tools

More detailed information can be found by creating a free MyPlate Plan. Enter the appropriate information to create a free customized healthy eating pattern!

Check out other free MyPlate Tools to test your knowledge, build nutrition skills, and make a healthy eating plan.


For a full report, see the USDA Publication, U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 Edition

or download the Dietary Guidelines consumer resources brochure.


Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults

In addition to consuming a healthy eating pattern and building a healthy eating routine, regular physical activity is one of the most important things Arkansans can do to improve their health.  Adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.  Additionally, muscle-strengthening exercises should be performed at least two days per week.  Engage in regular physical activity in a variety of ways throughout the day by choosing activities that you enjoy.


Additional Resources