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Expert Questions and Answers

Browse common nutrition questions answered by Nutrition.gov's Registered Dietitians. Looking for other information on healthy eating? Ask your questions here.

Basic Nutrition

I heard that MyPyramid has been replaced. Is that true?

Yes. The MyPlate food guidance system replaced MyPyramid in 2011. MyPlate focuses on portion control and using the food groups to create a balanced diet.

What is a "healthy diet"?

A healthy eating pattern is one that provides enough of each essential nutrient from nutrient-dense foods, contains a variety of foods from all of the basic food groups, and focuses on balancing calories consumed with calories expended to help you achieve and sustain a healthy weight. This eating pattern limits intake of solid fats, sugar, salt (sodium) and alcohol. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans consumer pamphlet, Start Simple with MyPlate, provides guidance for creating a healthy eating pattern to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis. Additional information on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is available at https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/

I would like to get advice about my eating habits. Who should I talk to?

Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN) are health professionals who are trained to provide counseling on nutrition and eating habits. An RDN can provide personalized dietary advice taking into consideration your health status, lifestyle, and food likes and dislikes. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a Find a Nutrition Expert online search tool that allows you to locate an RDN in your geographical area. Be advised that this list may not include all RDNs in your area.

How many servings from each food group do I need each day?

The number of servings you need each day from each food group depends on your calorie needs. To determine your calorie needs and find the number of servings that is right for you, please visit the MyPlate Plan.

How much of a nutrient is too much?

The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) defines the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) as the highest level of daily nutrient intake that is likely to pose no risk of adverse health effects to almost all individuals in the general population. This level is different for each nutrient. To view the UL for Vitamins and Elements (also referred to as minerals or electrolytes), please refer to the Tolerable Upper Intake Levels table from the FNB.

How is food digested?

Digestion begins in the mouth, when we chew and swallow, and is completed in the small intestine. Digestion involves the mixing of food, its movement through the digestive tract, and the breakdown of food into smaller molecules. The digestive process varies for different kinds of food. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse website, Your Digestive System and How It Works, explains how food is digested and why digestion is important. This resource is also available in Spanish.

How do I know if nutrition information I find on the Internet is reliable?

MedlinePlus' Evaluating Internet Health Information: A Tutorial offer tips for evaluating the quality of health information on websites. Other helpful resources can be found on the Food and Nutrition Information Center's Fraud and Nutrition Misinformation page.

Diet and Health Conditions

Is there a high blood pressure diet?

Nutrition.gov’s High Blood Pressure page provides nutrition tips for managing high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. You can also read more about salt, how it affects the body, and how to eat less on the Salt and Sodium page. Find other information on topics including the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) from these sources:

What foods cause gas and bloating?

There are many possible causes of gas and bloating, including:

  • Swallowing more air than usual (e.g. when chewing gum or drinking carbonated [fizzy] drinks)
  • Eating certain foods or drinks (e.g. “sugar-free” products made with sugar alcohols)
  • Having certain digestive disorders (e.g. Celiac Disease, gastritis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome [IBS], or food allergies and intolerances)

Causes of digestive discomfort vary from person to person. If you are concerned, talk to your doctor. They can help you find out why you are having symptoms and how you can make them better.

For more information, read Symptoms & Causes of Gas in the Digestive Tract from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

What are the most common foods that people are allergic to?

The Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Food Allergies page lists the most common foods to cause allergies as milk, eggs, fish, crab, lobster, shrimp, almonds and other tree nuts, and peanuts (one of the chief foods responsible for severe anaphylaxis).

What is the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?

Read about Food Allergy: An Overview (PDF|1.75 MB) from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Besides discussing the difference, it explains that food allergies can cause very serious reactions and why it is so important for people with true food allergies to have these allergies identified by a doctor.

How can I get nutrition advice about a medical condition?

Counseling:

  • Talk with your doctor or other health professional about referring you to a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). An RDN can provide personalized dietary advice taking into consideration your health status (such as other medical conditions), lifestyle, and food likes and dislikes.
  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a Find a Nutrition Expert online tool that allows you to locate an RDN in your geographical area with particular specialties (such as weight control, diabetes, digestive disorders, etc.). Be advised that this list may not include all RDNs in your area.
  • Check with your local health department, hospitals, clinics, and Cooperative Extension for classes such as those on weight management, diabetes, etc.

Web information:

  • For background information, you may find it helpful to look on the Web. Information obtained online, however, does not take the place of personalized advice from a qualified health professional, and some websites have inaccurate or misleading information. In looking for reliable information on the Web, you may want check out our Diet and Health Conditions section.
What foods can I eat to manage my diabetes or pre-diabetes?

Learn about nutrition for diabetes or pre-diabetes with resources from Nutrition.gov's Diabetes page. Other helpful resources that provide tips on meal planning, carb counting, and healthy lifestyle changes include:

Consult with your doctor or a registered dietitian when making any changes to your diabetes care plan, including diet changes.

Dietary Supplements

Are natural supplements good for you?

Some individuals consider herbal or botanical supplements to be “natural.” However, herbal or botanical supplements are not proven to be safer. All dietary supplements, including herbal remedies, are not required to be reviewed for safety and effectiveness before being sold. Read 5 Tips: What Consumers Need To Know About Dietary Supplements from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and talk to your doctor before starting any supplements. Find more information on Nutrition.gov’s Herbal Supplements page.

Where can I find information on types of dietary supplements?

Dietary supplements come in a variety of forms, including pills, liquids, and powders. You can learn about types of dietary supplements in the Dietary Supplements section on Nutrition.gov. Other reliable sources of information include:

Find questions to consider when evaluating supplements for safety in the Food and Drug Administration’s Tips for Dietary Supplement Users. We advise you to discuss all dietary supplements or alternative medicines with your doctor before taking them. Your doctor is familiar with your health status and can help you determine if the supplement is safe and may be helpful.

What are the risks and side effects of taking dietary supplements?

Companies are not required to prove dietary supplements are safe and effective before they are sold. That means it is possible for supplements to contain too much or too little of an ingredient or be contaminated with an unexpected ingredient. Find more information in the Food and Drug Administration’s Information for Consumers on Using Dietary Supplements resource. A variety of resources on the risks and safety of dietary supplements are also available on Nutrition.gov’s Safety and Health Claims page. If you experience a serious negative side effect from a dietary supplement, follow the steps on Reporting Serious Problems to FDA.  

Be sure to consult with your doctor before starting a dietary supplement. Supplements may not be safe for certain health conditions, including pregnancy or chronic diseases. They could also lead to harmful side effects if combined with other supplements or medicines, or if consumed in large amounts. Read more on the FDA’s What You Need to Know about Dietary Supplements webpage.

Do I need a vitamin or mineral supplement?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that nutrient needs be met mostly from eating a variety of foods and beverages. However, vitamin or mineral supplements may be useful when it is not possible to otherwise meet your nutrient needs, such as during pregnancy or with certain medical conditions. Visit the Vitamin and Mineral Supplements page on Nutrition.gov for general information on the vitamins and minerals that the body needs.

Always talk with your doctor before taking a vitamin or mineral supplement, including multivitamins. Your doctor can review your personal health status and inform you if a supplement could be helpful.

What supplements can help with weight loss?

There is no proof that dietary supplements for weight loss are effective. As with other dietary supplements, weight loss supplements do not need to be tested for safety or effectiveness before they are sold. View these resources for more information on dietary supplements for weight loss:

Lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet and regular exercise, can be a sustainable approach for weight loss. General resources for healthy weight loss can be found on Nutrition.gov’s Strategies for Success page. Work with your doctor or a registered dietitian to find a plan that is right for you.

Food Safety

Where can I view current food recalls?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Food Safety Recalls feed shares real-time notices of recalls and alerts from USDA and HHS’ Food and Drug Administration.

The individual agency pages from which the recalls, alerts, and outbreaks are obtained can be found below:

How long can I keep leftover food?

Leftovers can stay fresh for different amounts of time, depending on the type of food. FoodSafety.gov provides guidelines for storing specific foods in the refrigerator and freezer in the FoodKeeper App and Cold Food Storage Chart. FoodKeeper provides storage tips for over 650 foods and beverages.

What foods can be canned at home?

The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension provides guidance on canning, fermenting, pickling, and other food preservation methods on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website. Their USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning shares instructions for canning fruits, tomatoes, vegetables, poultry, red meats, seafood, fermented food, pickled vegetables, and jams and jellies. Visit the Frequently Asked Canning Questions page for additional information.

Food Security and Access

How can I eat healthy on a budget?

Nutrition.gov’s Nutrition on a Budget page shares tips and lessons for saving money on healthy foods. Choosing budget-friendly foods, shopping sales, using what you already have, and buying a combination of fresh, frozen, and non-perishable items are all ways to spend less at the store.

Get more ideas at your fingertips with the Shop Simple with MyPlate app.

I need financial assistance with buying healthy foods. Can you help?

Nutrition.gov’s Food Assistance Programs page shares information about federal nutrition programs available to the public, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and Older Americans Act congregate meals. Visit the websites for these programs to get details about eligibility, applications, and benefits.

USDA’s National Hunger Hotline can also help with finding local food resources, including food banks and social services. Call the hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE to speak with a representative in English or Spanish.

I am having a problem with my USDA food benefits. Can you help me?

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) offers food and nutrition assistance to Americans through several programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and National School Lunch Program.

Most FNS programs are managed at the state or local level, which means you need to contact the program office in your area for assistance with benefits, applications, or other questions. See the SNAP State Directory of Resources and FNS Contact Map to obtain the contact information for your state.

Healthy Living and Weight

How can I burn off my stored body fat?

We all need some body fat, but if stored fat is excessive it may increase risk of diet-related diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. This is particularly true if excess fat is in the abdominal area. According to the CDC, a body mass index, or BMI, of 25 or higher is an indication that your weight may be unhealthy. Also, a waist circumference of over 40 inches in men and over 35 inches in women indicates excessive abdominal fat if BMI is 25 or higher. Calculate your BMI and find information on measuring your waist size from CDC.

The best strategy for losing excess weight and stored body fat involves calorie reduction, increased physical activity, and a behavior change plan. See Interested in Losing Weight? from Nutrition.gov to learn more.

How many calories do I need to burn to lose a pound of weight?

You need to burn off 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 pound. This translates into a reduction of 500 calories per day to lose 1 pound in a week, or 1000 calories per day to lose 2 pounds in a week. (1-2 pounds per week is generally considered to be a safe rate of weight loss.) This can be achieved by eating fewer calories or using up more through physical activity. A combination of both is best. See CDC's Finding a Balance website to learn more.

I'm on a diet to lose weight. Do I still need to exercise?

Physical activity is a key component of helping you move toward a healthier weight, as it can help you achieve the appropriate calorie balance. People who exercise regularly may be more likely to keep the weight from coming back after losing weight. Check out the following resources on physical activity:

I would like to gain weight. How can I do this in a healthy manner?

Losing, gaining or staying at the same weight all depend on how many calories you eat and how many calories your body uses over time. If you eat more calories than you use, you will gain weight; conversely, if you eat fewer calories than you use, you will lose weight. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Healthy Weight Gain website provides some information and advice on how to gain weight and remain healthy.

Because many Americans are overweight, there are many resources geared toward losing weight. Some of these resources explain the principles of weight balance and can provide guidance for you to gain weight in a healthy manner; you will just need to focus on portion sizes for weight gain, rather than weight loss. One such resource is Aim for a Healthy Weight from the National Institute of Health’s National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. There are many other weight control resources on the Healthy Living and Weight section of Nutrition.gov.

If you would like personalized advice, or you want to know how many calories or what types of foods are best for you, Registered Dietitians (RD) are health professionals who can physically assess you and your needs. In the United States, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a referral service to registered dietitians. You can find a dietitian in your area by using the Find a Nutrition Expert online tool on their website.

I am a 42 year old female weighing 200 pounds and I am 5’5”. Can you provide a diet that will help me lose weight?

We are unable to provide nutrition counseling or create a personalized weight loss plan, however we can point you towards some interactive tools and information that may be helpful. Nutrition.gov’s Strategies for Success website contains a variety of credible weight management resources. In addition, the Body Weight Planner, from the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), allows users to make personalized calorie and physical activity plans to reach a goal weight within a specific time period and to maintain it afterwards.

If you would like a more specific meal plan and want to speak with a nutrition professional, ask your doctor to refer you to a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also has a Find a Nutrition Expert online tool that allows you to locate an RDN in your area.

How can I get enough nutrients without consuming too many calories?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourages you to choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages to help achieve recommended nutrient intakes. Foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein foods can help you get the nutrients you need without excess calories. Avoid excess calories by limiting consumption of foods high in added sugars and solid fats, and alcoholic beverages; these provide calories but are poor sources of essential nutrients. See USDA's MyPlate.gov to learn more about choosing nutrient-dense foods. And, because calorie intake must be balanced with physical activity to control weight, stay active. See the NIH Weight-Control Information Network's Tips to Help You Get Active.

Shopping, Cooking, and Meal Planning

Can you send me quick and healthy meal ideas?

Nutrition.gov’s Recipes page contains over 60 healthy recipes and can be filtered by “30 Minutes or Less” options. To get inspiration from sample menus or meal plans, see our Food Shopping and Meal Planning page.

What is the difference between added sugars and total sugars on the food label?

The HHS Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines added sugars and total sugars and shares how to find them on the food label on their Added Sugars on the New Nutrition Facts Label page. According to the FDA, added sugars are “sugars that are added during the processing of foods (such as sucrose or dextrose), foods packaged as sweeteners (such as table sugar), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices.”

Where can I find nutrition tips and recipes for different cultures and traditions?

Nutrition.gov collects nutrition resources and healthy recipes for a variety of cultures on the Culture and Food page. The page includes traditional recipes for Native American fry bread, African jollof rice, Costa Rican mangu, Indian dal, and other dishes.

What farmers markets are near me?

The National Farmers Market Directory lists recurrent farmers markets in the United States. It is updated regularly by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

What's in Food

Where can I get information on the amount of calories, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals in various foods?

The USDA's Food Data Central has five online searchable databases of nutrient composition, which can be used to search for nutrients in common foods. FNIC's Nutrient Lists from Standard Reference Legacy (2018) provide lists of which foods have the most and least content of specific nutrients.

For additional resources, see our What's in Food section.

What is the difference between calories and kilocalories?

The "calorie" we refer to in food is actually kilocalorie. One (1) kilocalorie is the same as one (1) Calorie (upper case C). A kilocalorie is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water one degree Celsius. Please visit USDA's Food Composition Laboratory for additional information.

Where can I find a chart or list of foods with calcium?

Find the calcium content in common foods by using the USDA's FoodData Central. You can create a list, sorted either alphabetically by food description or in descending order by calcium content in common household measures. You can also find a list of common foods that have the most and least amounts of calcium in the Nutrient Lists from Standard Reference Legacy (2018) on the FNIC website.

Is there a law that requires food labels to list ingredients that commonly cause food allergies?

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, which went into effect January, 2006, requires that food labels identify in plain English if the product contains any of the eight major food allergens - milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and soybeans.