Food Patterns: Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern

The Healthy U.S.-Style Pattern is based on the types and proportions of foods Americans typically consume, but in nutrient-dense forms and appropriate amounts. It is designed to meet nutrient needs while not exceeding calorie requirements and while staying within limits for overconsumed dietary components.

The methodology used to develop and update this Pattern continues to be grounded in that of the food guides USDA has developed for the last 30 years. This methodology includes using current food consumption data to determine the mix and proportions of foods to include in each group, using current food composition data to select a nutrient-dense representative for each food, and calculating nutrient profiles for each food group using these nutrient-dense representative foods. As would be expected, most foods in their nutrient-dense forms do contain some sodium and saturated fatty acids. In a few cases, such as whole-wheat bread, the most appropriate representative in current Federal databases contains a small amount of added sugars. Detailed information about the representative foods, nutrient profiles, and Patterns is available on the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion website.[1]

Amounts of each food group and subgroup are adjusted as needed, within the limits of the range of typical consumption when possible, to meet nutrient and Dietary Guidelines standards while staying within the limits for calories and overconsumed dietary components. Standards for nutrient adequacy aim to meet the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA), which are designed to cover the needs of 97 percent of the population, and Adequate Intakes (AI), which are used when an average nutrient requirement cannot be determined. The Patterns meet these standards for almost all nutrients. For a few nutrients (vitamin D, vitamin E, potassium, choline), amounts in the Patterns are marginal or below the RDA or AI standard for many or all age-sex groups. In most cases, an intake of these nutrients below the RDA or AI is not considered to be of public health concern. For more information on potassium and vitamin D, see Chapter 2, Underconsumed Nutrients and Nutrients of Public Health Concern.

The Healthy U.S.-Style Pattern is the base USDA Food Pattern. While the Healthy U.S.-Style Pattern is substantially unchanged from the base USDA Food Pattern of the 2010 edition of the Dietary Guidelines, small changes in the recommended amounts reflect updating the Patterns based on current food consumption and composition data. The Healthy U.S.-Style Pattern includes 12 calorie levels to meet the needs of individuals across the lifespan. To follow this Pattern, identify the appropriate calorie level, choose a variety of foods in each group and subgroup over time in recommended amounts, and limit choices that are not in nutrient-dense forms so that the overall calorie limit is not exceeded.

Calorie Level of Patterna 1,000 1,200 1,400 1,600 1,800 2,000 2,200 2,400 2,600 2,800 3,000 3,200
Food Groupb Daily Amountc of Food From Each Group (vegetable and protein foods subgroup amounts are per week)
Vegetables 1 c-eq 1½ c-eq 1½ c-eq 2 c-eq 2½ c-eq 2½ c-eq 3 c-eq 3 c-eq 3½ c-eq 3½ c-eq 4 c-eq 4 c-eq
Dark-green vegetables (c-eq/wk) ½ 1 1 2 2
Red and orange vegetables (c-eq/wk) 3 3 4 6 6 7 7
Legumes (beans and peas) (c-eq/wk) ½ ½ ½ 1 2 2 3 3
Starchy vegetables (c-eq/wk) 2 4 5 5 6 6 7 7 8 8
Other vegetables (c-eq/wk) 4 4 5 5 7 7
Fruits 1 c-eq 1 c-eq 1½ c-eq 1½ c-eq 1½ c-eq 2 c-eq 2 c-eq 2 c-eq 2 c-eq 2½ c-eq 2½ c-eq 2½ c-eq
Grains 3 oz-eq 4 oz-eq 5 oz-eq 5 oz-eq 6 oz-eq 6 oz-eq 7 oz-eq 8 oz-eq 9 oz-eq 10 oz-eq 10 oz-eq 10 oz-eq
Whole grainsd (oz-eq/day) 2 3 3 3 4 5 5 5
Refined grains (oz-eq/day) 2 2 3 3 4 5 5 5
Dairy 2 c-eq 2½ c-eq 2½ c-eq 3 c-eq 3 c-eq 3 c-eq 3 c-eq 3 c-eq 3 c-eq 3 c-eq 3 c-eq 3 c-eq
Protein Foods 2 oz-eq 3 oz-eq 4 oz-eq 5 oz-eq 5 oz-eq 5½ oz-eq 6 oz-eq 6½ oz-eq 6½ oz-eq 7 oz-eq 7 oz-eq 7 oz-eq
Seafood (oz-eq/wk) 3 4 6 8 8 8 9 10 10 10 10 10
Meats, poultry, eggs (oz-eq/wk) 10 14 19 23 23 26 28 31 31 33 33 33
Nuts seeds, soy products (oz-eq/wk) 2 2 3 4 4 5 5 5 5 6 6 6
Oils 15 g 17 g 17 g 22 g 24 g 27 g 29 g 31 g 34 g 36 g 44 g 51 g
Limit on Calories for Other Uses, calories (% of calories)e,f 150 100 110 130 170 270 280 350 380 400 470 610
-15% -8% -8% -8% -9% -14% -13% -15% -15% -14% -16% -19%

a Food intake patterns at 1,000, 1,200, and 1,400 calories are designed to meet the nutritional needs of 2- to 8-year-old children. Patterns from 1,600 to 3,200 calories are designed to meet the nutritional needs of children 9 years and older and adults. If a child 4 to 8 years of age needs more calories and, therefore, is following a pattern at 1,600 calories or more, his/her recommended amount from the dairy group should be 2.5 cups per day. Children 9 years and older and adults should not use the 1,000-, 1,200-, or 1,400-calorie patterns.

b Foods in each group and subgroup are:

  • Vegetables
    • Dark-green vegetables: All fresh, frozen, and canned dark-green leafy vegetables and broccoli, cooked or raw: for example, broccoli; spinach; romaine; kale; collard, turnip, and mustard greens.
    • Red and orange vegetables: All fresh, frozen, and canned red and orange vegetables or juice, cooked or raw: for example, tomatoes, tomato juice, red peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and pumpkin.
    • Legumes (beans and peas): All cooked from dry or canned beans and peas: for example, kidney beans, white beans, black beans, lentils, chickpeas, pinto beans, split peas, and edamame (green soybeans). Does not include green beans or green peas.
    • Starchy vegetables: All fresh, frozen, and canned starchy vegetables: for example, white potatoes, corn, green peas, green lima beans, plantains, and cassava.
    • Other vegetables: All other fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables, cooked or raw: for example, iceberg lettuce, green beans, onions, cucumbers, cabbage, celery, zucchini, mushrooms, and green peppers.
  • Fruits
    • All fresh, frozen, canned, and dried fruits and fruit juices: for example, oranges and orange juice, apples and apple juice, bananas, grapes, melons, berries, and raisins.
  • Grains
    • Whole grains: All whole-grain products and whole grains used as ingredients: for example, whole-wheat bread, whole-grain cereals and crackers, oatmeal, quinoa, popcorn, and brown rice.
    • Refined grains: All refined-grain products and refined grains used as ingredients: for example, white breads, refined grain cereals and crackers, pasta, and white rice. Refined grain choices should be enriched.
  • Dairy
    • All milk, including lactose-free and lactose-reduced products and fortified soy beverages (soymilk), yogurt, frozen yogurt, dairy desserts, and cheeses. Most choices should be fat-free or low-fat. Cream, sour cream, and cream cheese are not included due to their low calcium content.
  • Protein Foods
    • All seafood, meats, poultry, eggs, soy products, nuts, and seeds. Meats and poultry should be lean or low-fat and nuts should be unsalted. Legumes (beans and peas) can be considered part of this group as well as the vegetable group, but should be counted in one group only.

c Food group amounts shown in cup-(c) or ounce-equivalents (oz-eq). Oils are shown in grams (g). Quantity equivalents for each food group are:

  • Vegetables and fruits, 1 cup-equivalent is: 1 cup raw or cooked vegetable or fruit, 1 cup vegetable or fruit juice, 2 cups leafy salad greens, ½ cup dried fruit or vegetable.
  • Grains, 1 ounce-equivalent is: ½ cup cooked rice, pasta, or cereal; 1 ounce dry pasta or rice; 1 medium (1 ounce) slice bread; 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal (about 1 cup of flaked cereal).
  • Dairy, 1 cup-equivalent is: 1 cup milk, yogurt, or fortified soymilk; 1½ ounces natural cheese such as cheddar cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese.
  • Protein Foods, 1 ounce-equivalent is: 1 ounce lean meat, poultry, or seafood; 1 egg; ¼ cup cooked beans or tofu; 1 Tbsp peanut butter; ½ ounce nuts or seeds.

d Amounts of whole grains in the Patterns for children are less than the minimum of 3 oz-eq in all Patterns recommended for adults.

e All foods are assumed to be in nutrient-dense forms, lean or low-fat and prepared without added fats, sugars, refined starches, or salt. If all food choices to meet food group recommendations are in nutrient-dense forms, a small number of calories remain within the overall calorie limit of the Pattern (i.e., limit on calories for other uses). The number of these calories depends on the overall calorie limit in the Pattern and the amounts of food from each food group required to meet nutritional goals. Nutritional goals are higher for the 1,200- to 1,600-calorie Patterns than for the 1,000-calorie Pattern, so the limit on calories for other uses is lower in the 1,200- to 1,600-calorie Patterns. Calories up to the specified limit can be used for added sugars, added refined starches, solid fats, alcohol, or to eat more than the recommended amount of food in a food group. The overall eating Pattern also should not exceed the limits of less than 10 percent of calories from added sugars and less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fats. At most calorie levels, amounts that can be accommodated are less than these limits. For adults of legal drinking age who choose to drink alcohol, a limit of up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men within limits on calories for other uses applies (see Appendix 9. Alcohol for additional guidance); and calories from protein, carbohydrate, and total fats should be within the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDRs).

f Values are rounded.

Article courtesy of