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USDA Dietary Patterns

Resource type
Technical Assistance & Guidance
Resource Materials

The USDA Dietary Patterns are developed by a team of nutrition scientists and data analysts from USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP), who are experts in food pattern modeling methodology. The USDA Dietary Patterns serve as a flexible framework to enable policymakers, programs, and health professionals to help people at any stage of life customize and enjoy nutrient-dense food and beverage choices to reflect personal preferences, cultural foodways, and budgetary considerations as recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Patterns identify amounts of foods, in nutrient-dense forms, from each of the five major food groups and their subgroups. They also include an allowance for oils and a limit on the maximum number of calories available for other uses, such as added sugars, refined starches, saturated fat, and alcohol, or to eat more than the recommended amount of a nutrient-dense food. The USDA Dietary Patterns are developed to align with evidence from systematic reviews showing relationships between diet and health outcomes and to meet nutrient needs of individuals at various life stages as established in the Dietary Reference Intakes.

Three USDA Dietary Patterns have been developed to provide a flexible framework for achieving a healthy dietary pattern. The Healthy U.S.-Style Dietary Pattern reflects the core elements of a healthy dietary pattern and provides a framework for healthy eating that people in the U.S. can follow. It is based on the types and proportions of foods that individuals in the U.S. of all ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities typically consume, but in nutrient-dense forms and in amounts that stay within specific calorie levels. The Healthy Mediterranean-Style Dietary Pattern and the Healthy Vegetarian Dietary Pattern are variations of the Healthy U.S.-Style Dietary Pattern that have many of the same core elements and are included to describe additional options for healthy dietary patterns.

The USDA Dietary Patterns are described in Appendix 3 of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 and are meant to be tailored to meet cultural and personal preferences and used as guides to plan and serve meals for individuals, households, and in a variety of other settings.

The Patterns have 12 calorie levels to meet the needs of individuals across the lifespan ages 2 and older, ranging from 1,000 to 3,200 calories per day. For toddlers ages 12 through 23 months who are no longer receiving either human milk or infant formula, the Healthy U.S.-Style and Healthy Vegetarian Dietary Patterns are provided at 4 calorie levels, ranging from 700 to 1,000 calories per day. Estimated calorie needs can be found in Appendix 2 of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.

MyPlate.gov provides tools and resources, such as the Shop Simple with MyPlate tool and Start Simple with MyPlate app, which individuals can use to adapt the USDA Dietary Patterns to meet their personal preferences and budgetary needs.

Food Pattern Modeling Overview

USDA/CNPP initiated food pattern modeling analyses in 2005, and the methodology was utilized by the 2005, 2010, 2015, and 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committees (Committees) to inform the development of the USDA Dietary Patterns. Food pattern modeling is one of three complementary scientific approaches used to understand how changes to food-based dietary recommendations could affect Americans’ abilities to meet their nutrient needs. Use the links under Publications and Reports (below) to learn more about the food pattern modeling analyses conducted by previous Committees.

The 2025 Committee is also using food pattern modeling methodology to inform its advice to USDA and HHS. See the next section to explore the work under way.

Food Pattern Modeling Work Under Way

USDA and HHS are committed to continuous quality advancement (CQA) for food pattern modeling. To prepare for the 2025 Committee, USDA and HHS staff collaborated on CQA efforts for food pattern modeling, focusing on methods to better reflect the complex interactions involved, variability in intakes, and range of possible healthful diets. Federal staff evaluated the analytic methods and development of data inputs and constraints for food pattern modeling and compared them to methods used in the development of guidance in other countries, as well as other modeling exercises described in scientific publications.

Learn more about the 2025 Committee’s food pattern modeling activities on DietaryGuidelines.gov.

Publications and Reports
2021
2020

Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2020. Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Advisory Report to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Washington, DC. Available at: https://doi.org/10.52570/DGAC2020

Specific Chapters:
Part D. Chapter 7: USDA Food Patterns for Children Younger Than Age 24 Months
Part D. Chapter 14: USDA Food Patterns for Individuals Ages 2 Years and Older
Part D. Chapter 12: Added Sugars

Supplementary Reports:
Food Pattern Modeling Report: Ages 2 Years and Older
Food Pattern Modeling Report: Under 2 Years of Age
Food Pattern Modeling Report: Added Sugars Exercise 1
Food Pattern Modeling Report: Added Sugars Exercise 2
Food Pattern Modeling Report: Added Sugars Exercise 3

2015

Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2015. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Advisory Report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Agriculture. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Washington, DC.

Specific Chapters:
Part C. Methodology, Special Analyses Using the USDA Food Patterns
Part D. Chapter 1: Food and Nutrient Intakes, and Health: Question 5
Part D. Chapter 1: Food and Nutrient Intakes, and Health: Question 20
Appendix E-3: USDA Food Patterns for Special Analyses
Appendix E-3.1.A2. USDA Food Patterns: Item Clusters, Representative Foods, and Percent of Consumption

2012
2010

Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2010. Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Washington, DC.

Specific Chapters:
Part C. Methodology: Use of the USDA Food Patterns for Special Analyses
Table C2. Food pattern modeling analyses conducted for the 2010 DGAC

Supplementary Reports
Appendix E-3.1 Adequacy of USDA Food Patterns: Food Pattern Modeling Analysis
Appendix E-3.2 Realigning Vegetable Subgroups: Food Pattern Modeling Analysis
Appendix E-3.3 Vegetarian Food Patterns: Food Pattern Modeling Analysis
Appendix E-3.4 Starchy Vegetables: Food Pattern Modeling Analysis
Appendix E-3.5 “Typical Choices” Food Patterns: Food Pattern Modeling Analysis
Appendix E-3.6 Milk Group and Alternatives: Food Pattern Modeling Analysis
Appendix E-3.7 Replacing all Non-Whole Grains with Whole Grains: Food Pattern Modeling Analysis
Appendix E-3.8 Cholesterol: Food Pattern Modeling Analysis
Appendix E-3.9 Reducing Cholesterol-Raising Fatty Acids: Food Pattern Modeling Analysis
Appendix E-3.10 Seafood: Food Pattern Modeling Analysis
Appendix E-3.11 Sodium: Food Pattern Modeling Analysis
Appendix E-3.12 Potassium: Food Pattern Modeling Analysis

2006
Page updated: November 07, 2023