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Nutritional Requirements

By Adrienne Youdim, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine; Associate Professor of Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA; Cedars Sinai Medical Center

General guidelines for a healthy diet have been developed even though daily nutritional requirements, including those for essential nutrients, vary depending on age, sex, height, weight, physical activity, and the rate at which the body burns calories (metabolic rate). Recommended dietary allowances for protein, vitamins (see Table: Vitamins), and minerals (see Table: Minerals) are periodically published by The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences–National Research Council and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These allowances are intended to meet the needs of healthy people.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also publishes MyPlate, a web site that helps people develop a healthy eating style and make healthy food choices that suit their individual needs. The web site provides an interactive tool called SuperTracker. This tool helps people plan, analyze, track, and manage their diet and physical activity. To use the tool, people enter information about themselves (their age, sex, activity level, and foods usually eaten) so that they can evaluate their diet and get recommendations about healthful foods that can help them reach and maintain a healthy weight. The amount of food needed each day from each food group varies depending on the person’s energy needs.

In general, authorities recommend that

  • People eat a variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, nuts, seeds, and soy products.

  • People reduce fat intake to about 28% of calories or less.

  • Most of the fat eaten should be polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats.

  • People reduce the amount of saturated fats they consume.

  • People should limit their consumption of trans fats or eliminate trans fats from their diet.

  • People should consume more fruits, vegetables, and cereals (most Americans eat do not eat enough).

  • People should limit their intake of added sugars to less than 10% of total daily calories.

  • People should drink enough fluids to prevent thirst. However, as people age, their ability to sense thirst decreases, so they may need to make a conscious effort to drink enough fluids.

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