Nutrition Basics

Sorting through dietary advice can be challenging.  However, by learning more about the basic nutrition concepts below, you will be better equipped to make healthier food choices.  

Estimating Calories
Calories are a measure of energy that a food or beverage provides.  They come from the carbohydrates, fat, protein, and alcohol in the food and drinks you consume.   It is important to balance the energy you get from foods and beverages with the energy you burn from your daily routine and physical activity.
Use these sample 2000 calorie menus to help you estimate how much food you will need to meet your calorie needs.
To find out how many calories are in a food or beverage, you can check out  Food-a-pedia.
Whole Grains
Grains are divided into 2 subgroups, Whole Grains and Refined Grains.
Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel kernel, which includes three parts: the bran, germ, and endosperm.  Refined grains have undergone a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to improve shelf life and to give grains a finer texture, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. As part of the refining process, most refined grains are enriched, meaning that certain B vitamins and iron are added back into them, but not all nutrients are replaced.
It is recommended that at least half of your grains be whole grain.  There are many tasty grains to choose from so we encourage you to find new ways to add whole grains to your meals and snacks.
Reducing Sodium
Sodium is an essential nutrient, but most of us consume a lot more than we actually need.  On average, the higher an individual’s sodium intake, the higher the individual’s blood pressure.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we reduce our sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon of table salt) each day and for certain groups to reduce their intake to 1500 mg per day. 
The majority of sodium in our diets comes from processed or restaurant foods.  We can’t rely on taste to know how much sodium is in a food, so it is important to read labels.
The Nutrition Facts Label
The Nutrition Facts Label contains important information that you can use to compare food and drink products.  Click here to learn more about each part of the label and how you can use it more effectively and easily.
Popular Topics
See links from FDA and read questions and answers on popular topics like arsenic, seafood, gluten-free labeling and dietary supplements.
Food Groups
Eating a balanced diet means selecting a variety of foods from each of the five food groups that serve as the building blocks for a healthy diet.  Consuming foods from each group helps you to get all the nutrients you need. The USDA Daily Food Plan and DASH Eating Plan resources can help you plan meals that provide foods from each group
Dietary Fats
Dietary fats are an important part of a healthy diet. Fats help us absorb certain vitamins and provide essential fatty acids.  However, when it comes to choosing fats, it is recommended that we choose “oils” over solid fats.
Vitamins, Minerals and Dietary Supplements
Vitamins and mineral play an important role in maintaining our overall health.  To learn more about their specific roles and how much you need, check out these fact sheets.
Most of us can get all the vitamins and minerals we need by eating a balanced diet.  However, there are times when we may need to supplement or consume fortified foods to meet our nutrient needs.  For example:
  • Women capable of becoming pregnant should consume 400 micrograms (mcg) folic acid per day (from fortified foods and/or supplements).
  • Individuals ages 50 years and older should consume foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as fortified cereals, or dietary supplements.
Before taking dietary supplements, it is always a good idea to discuss with your doctor particularly if you are being treated for other conditions, e.g., pregnancy or are taking medications for other conditions.  For more information about specific vitamins, minerals or dietary supplements, check out these resources below: