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Healthy diet in adults

Graham A Colditz, MD, DrPh
Section Editor
Timothy O Lipman, MD
Deputy Editor
H Nancy Sokol, MD


Large, prospective epidemiologic studies of diet and chronic diseases have facilitated major advances in our understanding of the contribution of diet to the pathogenesis of disease [1]. These studies are complemented by randomized trials and studies of nutrient action in animal models, which have led to changing dietary guidelines around the world [2]. Although guidelines vary from country to country, recommendations from different parts of the world share similarities in terms of the emphasis on certain types of foods and nutrients [2-6].

This topic will review important components of a healthy diet. Dietary assessment and diets for specific populations are discussed elsewhere. (See "Dietary assessment in adults" and "Dietary recommendations for toddlers, preschool, and school-age children" and "Obesity in adults: Dietary therapy" and "Geriatric nutrition: Nutritional issues in older adults".)


Maintaining caloric balance over time is important to maintaining healthy weight. Overnutrition leading to overweight and obesity is the single most important dietary factor associated with poor health outcomes. It is associated with premature mortality as well as increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and other important conditions [7-9]. (See "Obesity in adults: Health hazards".)

For patients with normal weight, caloric intake should equal energy expenditure. Balancing caloric intake requires that many individuals limit their typical calorie consumption, while also engaging in physical activity. (See "The benefits and risks of exercise".)

Calculating total energy expenditure for recommended daily caloric intake is based on age, sex, weight, and activity level (table 1). Calculating one's actual daily caloric intake can be aided by using 24-hour dietary recall, a food diary, or other assessment tools to determine caloric intake of different foods and beverages. (See "Dietary assessment in adults".)


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Jun 15, 2016.
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