Major food sources of calories, added sugars, and saturated fat and their contribution to essential nutrient intakes in the U.S. diet: data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2003-2006)

Nutr J. 2013 Aug 8;12:116. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-12-116.


Background: The risk of chronic disease cannot be predicted simply by the content of a single nutrient in a food or food group in the diet. The contribution of food sources of calories, added sugars and saturated fat (SFA) to intakes of dietary fiber and micronutrients of public health importance is also relevant to understanding the overall dietary impact of these foods.

Objective: Identify the top food sources of calories, added sugars and SFA in the U.S. diet and quantify their contribution to fiber and micronutrient intakes.

Methods: Single 24-hour dietary recalls (Day 1) collected from participants ≥2 years (n = 16,822) of the What We Eat in America, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (WWEIA/NHANES 2003-2006) were analyzed. All analyses included sample weights to account for the survey design. Calorie and nutrient intakes from foods included contributions from disaggregated food mixtures and tabulated by rank order.

Results: No one food category contributes more than 7.2% of calories to the overall U.S. diet, but half of the top 10 contribute 10% or more of total dietary fiber and micronutrients. Three of the top 10 sources of calories and SFA (beef, milk and cheese) contribute 46.3% of the calcium, 49.5% of the vitamin D, 42.3% of the vitamin B12 as well as other essential nutrients to the American diet. On the other hand, foods categorized as desserts, snacks, or beverages, contribute 13.6% of total calories, 83% of added sugar intake, and provide little or no nutritional value. Including food components of disaggregated recipes more accurately estimated the contribution of foods like beef, milk or cheese to overall nutrient intake compared to "as consumed" food categorizations.

Conclusions: Some food sources of calories, added sugars and SFA make major contributions to American dietary fiber and micronutrient intakes. Dietary modifications targeting reductions in calories, added sugar, or SFA need to take these key micronutrient sources into account so as not to have the unintended consequence of lowering overall dietary quality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Beverages
  • Carbohydrates / administration & dosage*
  • Dairy Products
  • Diet, Western*
  • Dietary Fiber / administration & dosage
  • Energy Intake*
  • Fatty Acids / administration & dosage*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Micronutrients / administration & dosage
  • Nutrition Surveys*
  • Nutritive Value
  • United States


  • Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Fatty Acids
  • Micronutrients