Key Nutrition Terms to Know

Key Nutrition Terms to Know

Over the course of any given day, week, or year, individuals consume food and beverages. These eating behaviors form an eating pattern. An eating pattern is more than the sum of its parts. It represents the totality of what an individuals habitually eat and drink, and these dietary components influence your health in dramatic ways. Remember the old saying, “you are what you eat!” Here are some key terms from the USDA to help bolster your nutritional knowledge:

Eating Pattern

The combination of foods and beverages that constitute an individual’s complete dietary intake over time. Often referred to as a “dietary pattern,” an eating pattern may describe a customary way of eating or a combination of foods recommended for consumption. Specific examples include USDA Food Patterns and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Eating Plan. Following a mindful and balanced eating pattern across your life will help you stay healthy and may help you avoid chronic disease and illness. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amounts—stay within your calorie limits. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, and reduce sodium intake.

Nutrient Density

A characteristic of foods and beverages that provide vitamins, minerals, and other substances that contribute to adequate nutrient intakes or may have positive health effects, with little or no solid fats and added sugars, refined starches, and sodium. Ideally, these foods and beverages also are in forms that retain naturally occurring components, such as dietary fiber. All vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans and peas, unsalted nuts and seeds, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and lean meats and poultry—when prepared with little or no added solid fats, sugars, refined starches, and sodium—are nutrient-dense foods. These foods contribute to meeting food group recommendations within calorie and sodium limits. The term “nutrient dense” indicates the nutrients and other beneficial substances in a food have not been “diluted” by the addition of calories from added solid fats, sugars, or refined starches, or by the solid fats naturally present in the food.


A diverse assortment of foods and beverages across and within all food groups and subgroups selected to fulfill the recommended amounts without exceeding the limits for calories and other dietary components. For example, in the vegetables food group, selecting a variety of foods could be accomplished over the course of a week by choosing from all subgroups, including dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other vegetables.

Always discuss your nutritional plan with your primary care provider. If you need to find a primary care provider, use our Find a Doctor tool to schedule an appointment today.

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