Dietary Guidelines

Food-based dietary guidelines (*)

Why do we need food-based dietary guidelines?

Diet is one of the single most important contributors to health, but also to disease. Most countries suffer from one or more problems along the nutritional spectrum of malnutrition: acute and/or chronic undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, obesity and diet-related diseases (including type II diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer).

Globalization, urbanization, changes in lifestyle and in the food supply have resulted in a shift in dietary habits and loss of traditional food cultures.

These changes, coupled with increased availability and marketing of products of low nutritional value, highlight the need for consistent, simple and practical dietary guidance to enable populations to select healthy diets, prevent disease and to guide countries in food, health and agriculture policy development.

What are food-based dietary guidelines?

Food-based dietary guidelines (also referred to as dietary guidelines) are short, science-based, positive messages on healthy eating and lifestyles aimed at preventing all forms of malnutrition and keeping people well-nourished and healthy. They embody national nutrition recommendations and express the principles of nutrition education in terms of food.


Food-based dietary guidelines translate nutrient recommendations into simple information using language and symbols that the public can easily understand, and focus on foods that are commonly consumed, portion sizes, and behaviours. Where they cannot be expressed entirely as foods they are written in language that avoids, as far as possible, the technical terms of nutritional science.

Many dietary guidelines have things in common. For example, most promote variety and increased consumption of plant foods, especially vegetables and fruit, as well as reduced intake of solid fats, salt and sugar. But each set of dietary guidelines contains unique features to address the dietary needs of each country’s population.

(*) © FAO. FAO website. [2016] [Food-based dietary guidelines. Accessed online on 18/9/2016 at FAO website