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Nutrition Basics

Dietary Fat

Whether you're looking for information about monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, saturated fat, trans fat, or cholesterol, you'll find what you need here.

What counts as fat? Are some fats better than other fats? While fats are essential for normal body function, some fats are better for you than others. Trans fats, saturated fats and cholesterol are less healthy than polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

How much total dietary fat do I need?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommend that Americans:

Consume less than 10% of calories from saturated fats.

Replace solid fats with oils when possible.

Limit foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fatty acids (such as hydrogenated oils), and keep total trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible.

Eat fewer than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day.

Reduce intake of calories from solid fats.

If some fats are healthier than others, can I eat as much of these fats as I want?

No, it's best to keep your total fat intake between 20 and 35% of your total calories each day.

Know your limits on fats.You can meet this recommendation by following a healthy eating plan that meets your needs.


You may be wondering what all the hype is about carbohydrates or "carbs" as they are often called. Find out the facts.

Not sure what to think about carbohydrates these days? You've come to the right section. Here are the facts to separate the hype from the truth about carbohydrates.

What are carbohydrates?

Your body uses carbohydrates (carbs) to make glucose which is the fuel that gives you energy and helps keep everything going.

Your body can use glucose immediately or store it in your liver and muscles for when it is needed.

You can find carbohydrates in the following:



Breads, cereals, and other grains

Milk and milk productssugar-sweetened

Foods containing added sugars (e.g., cakes, cookies, and beverages).

Healthier foods higher in carbohydrates include ones that provide dietary fiber and whole grains as well as those without added sugars.

What about foods higher in carbohydrates such as sodas and candies that also contain added sugars? Those are the ones that add extra calories but not many nutrients to your diet.

I've heard there are "good" carbs and "bad" carbs? Can you provide me more information?

Some diet books use "bad" carbs to talk about foods with refined carbohydrates (i.e., meaning they're made from white flour and added sugars).

Examples include white bread, cakes, and cookies.

"Good" carbs is used to describe foods that have more fiber and complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are carbohydrates that take longer to break down into glucose; such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans.

These terms aren't used in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. Instead, the guidelines recommend choosing fiber-rich carbohydrate choices from the vegetable, fruit, and grain groups and avoid added sugars.

It is also recommended that at least half of your daily grain choices are whole grains.

What are the types of carbohydrates?

There are two main types of carbohydrates:

Complex carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates

Complex Carbohydrates

Starch and dietary fiber are the two types of complex carbohydrates.

Starch must be broken down through digestion before your body can use it as a glucose source.

Quite a few foods contain starch and dietary fiber such as breads, cereals, and vegetables:

Starch is in certain vegetables (i.e., potatoes, dry beans, peas, and corn).

Starch is also found in breads, cereals, and grains.

Dietary fiber is in vegetables, fruits, and whole grain foods.

Dietary Fiber

You may have seen dietary fiber on the label listed as soluble fiber or insoluble fiber.

Soluble fiber is found in the following:


Oat bran

Nuts and seeds

Most fruits (e.g., strawberries, blueberries, pears, and apples)

Dry beans and peas

Insoluble fiber found in the following:

Whole wheat bread


Brown rice


Bulgur or whole grain cereals

Wheat bran


Most vegetables


Which type is best? Both! Each has important health benefits so eat a variety of these foods to get enough of both. You're also more likely to get other nutrients that you might miss if you just chose 1 or 2 high-fiber foods.

How much dietary fiber do I need each day?

Most Americans greatly under consume dietary fiber. Breads, rolls, buns and pizza crust made with refined flour are not among the best sources of dietary fiber, but currently contribute to a large portion our diets. To meet the recommendations for fiber, most people need to increase the consumption of beans peas other vegetable, fruits and whole grains, and other foods with naturally occurring fiber.

It's recommended that you get 14 grams of dietary fiber for every 1,000 calories that you consume each day.1 To find out how many calories you need each day, visit: Food Plans at MyPlate.govExternal Web Site Icon and enter your age, sex, height, weight, and your activity level in the Daily Food plan.

Or as a general rule you may refer to the chart below to find out the recommended amount of fiber you need based on age and gender groups.

At first, you may find it challenging to eat all of your daily fiber grams. Just take it slowly and try to choose higher-fiber foods more often. Over time, you'll gradually be eating more fiber!

Try these tips to jumpstart your intake of dietary fiber:

Choose whole fruits more often than fruit juice. Fresh, frozen, or canned—it doesn't matter— they all count!

Try to eat two vegetables with your evening meal.

Keep a bowl of veggies already washed and prepared your refrigerator—try carrots, cucumbers, or celery for a quick snack.

Make a meal around dried beans or peas (also called legumes) instead of meat.

Choose whole grain foods more often. Take a look at the "whole grains buzz words list" below to help you decide. A good guide is to make at least ½ of your grain choices be whole grains.

Start your day with a whole grain breakfast cereal low in added sugar. Top your cereal with fruit for even more fiber. While bananas may come to your mind first, you can add even more variety by also trying sliced peaches or berries. You can often find these fruits year-round in the frozen foods section of your grocery store.

Whole Grains

Whole grains are a good source of fiber and nutrients. Whole grains refer to grains that have all of the parts of the grain seed (sometimes called the kernel). These parts of the kernel are called the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.

If the whole grain has been cracked, crushed, or flaked (as in cracked whole grain bread or flake cereal), then the whole grain must still have about the same proportions of bran, germ, and endosperm to be called a whole grain.

When whole grains are processed, some of the dietary fiber and other important nutrients are removed. A processed grain is called a "refined" grain.

Some refined grain products have key nutrients, such as folic acid and iron, which were removed during the initial processing and added back. These are called enriched grains. White rice and white bread are enriched grain products.

Some enriched grain foods have extra nutrients added. These are called fortified grains.

Whole Grain "Buzz Words"

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that you try to make at least half of your daily grain choices as whole grains.

You can find out if the food you are eating is made of whole grains by looking at the ingredients list of the food label. The whole grain should be the first ingredient listed. The following are some examples of how whole grains could be listed:

brown rice


bulgur (cracked wheat)


wild rice




whole-grain barley

whole-grain corn

whole oats/oatmeal

whole rye

whole wheat

*Popcorn is a whole grain that can have added fat and salt. Try air-popping your popcorn to avoid these extras. If you're buying microwave popcorn, look for a lower-fat variety. You may also want to try the snack size bag to help with portion control.

Grains Galore!

Here are some explanations of less-familiar grains:

Bulgur.A staple of Middle Eastern dishes. Bulgur wheat consists of kernels that have been steamed, dried, and crushed. It has a tender and chewy texture.

Millet. A staple grain in parts of Africa and Asia. Millet comes in several varieties and has a bland flavor that is a background to other seasonings.

Quinoa. A grain that has been traditionally used in South American cuisine. Its texture has been compared to that of couscous.

Triticale.A grain that is a hybrid of wheat and rye. It comes in several varieties including whole berry, flakes, and flour.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates include sugars found naturally in foods such as fruits, vegetables milk, and milk products. Simple carbohydrates also include sugars added during food processing and refining.6 What's the difference? In general, foods with added sugars have fewer nutrients than foods with naturally-occurring sugars.

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