Confused About Daily Food Requirements? Change The Way You Think About Them

Experts at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported this month that people might eat a healthier diet if they change their thinking about how much they’re eating. The Harvard Health Letter says that it’s a good idea to focus on total daily intake, rather than trying to consume a particular amount of servings in each of the food categories.

a man shopping for Groceries in the produce section
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Dietary guidelines have traditionally focused on food measured in “servings,” which can be confusing. There’s been a recent shift to measuring food in tablespoons, ounces, or cups, taking a lot of guesswork out of the healthy eating equation.

Here are the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s recommended daily food goals for each category. Keep in mind that these goals will vary according to age, sex, and general health.

Fruits: Shoot for 1.5 to 2 cups a day. Mix it up with a variety of different fruits to keep things interesting.

Vegetables: The vegetable recommendation is a little more than for fruits, at 2.5 to 3 cups. Registered dietitian Kathy McManus, who directs the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says to “Aim for a variety of vegetables and try to include those with different colors, for different phytonutrients [beneficial substances in plants].” Brightly colored veggies are optimal, such as dark and leafy greens and bright red peppers and tomatoes.

Poultry, meat, or fish: 5 to 6 ounces, or up to 42 ounces a week. McManus suggests that 12 of those ounces be seafood.

Whole grains: about half a cup. When selcting foods such as cereals and bread, “the word ‘whole’ should be the first ingredient listed,” saus McManus.

Healthy oils such as olive, peanut, and avocado oils: 1 to 2 tablespoons.

Dairy: 2 cups. Many nutritionists recommend three cups of milk or yogurt per day, but an adjunct professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health disagrees with this amount. Teresa Fung says “one to two servings [one to two cups of milk or yogurt] is sufficient to achieve good health,” according to Harvard research.