Skip to Main Content

We have a new app!

Take the Access library with you wherever you go—easy access to books, videos, images, podcasts, personalized features, and more.

Download the Access App here: iOS and Android


Every infant or child has a genetic potential for physical, mental, and emotional growth. Providing nutrition that fulfills all aspects of that growth potential represents optimal nutrition. When nutrition either limits growth or results in excessive body mass, because of either inadequate quality or inappropriate quantity, an individual is suffering from malnutrition (ie, undernutrition or obesity).

All published dietary requirements are guidelines designed to assure that most individuals will be well nourished. They are not meant to be rigidly followed by any specific individual. Also, precise adherence to these guidelines by any one person does not guarantee that an individual will be well nourished.


In 1988, the first Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health concluded that overconsumption of certain dietary components now is a major concern for Americans. The disproportionate consumption of foods that are high in fats, often at the expense of foods that are high in complex carbohydrates and fiber (eg, vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products), increased the risk of diet-related diseases. The report reiterated the dietary guidelines issued jointly by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Department of Health and Human Services. The recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans were revised in 2015 to focus on healthy eating patterns instead of specific food groups, as people do not eat foods in isolation. These guidelines are summarized here:

  • Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan.

  • Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount.

  • Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake.

  • Switch to healthier food and beverage choices.

  • Support healthy eating patterns for all.

The USDA has defined a system of 6 basic food groups that, when combined appropriately, should provide the average American with his or her nutritional needs. These 6 groups are vegetables, fruits, grains (eg, breads, cereals, pastas), dairy products, proteins (eg, meat, poultry, fish eggs, nuts, legumes), and oils. Saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium are separated, and it is recommended that their consumption be limited.


The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Science, has collaborated since 1992 to revise the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs). Following an explosion of nutrition-related scientific data, the FNB decided to replace the RDAs with dietary reference intakes (DRIs), which broadened the focus of the FNB as well as provided guidelines for the United States and Canada. The DRIs were established to meet a variety of uses, those focused on the intake and adequacy of populations as well as individuals. The FNB investigated the connection between nutrient intake and the risk reduction for chronic disease. In addition, upper limits (ULs) for nutrients were established, specifically addressing therapeutics and toxicities. The following are 4 categories that comprise the ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.