The U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) has recently released the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 – 2025 (Dietary Guidelines). This is updated every 5 years. Download here.
The Dietary Guidelines provide advice on what to eat and drink to meet nutrient needs, promote health, and prevent disease.
What people eat and drink have an impact on their health. In the U.S., more than half of all adults have one or more preventable chronic diseases, many of which are related to poor diets and not enough physical activity. All Americans, no matter their health status, can benefit from making changes to what they eat and drink to build a healthy diet.
The Guidelines have a tagline: Make every bite count . Here’s how:
First, follow a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage.
- At every life stage—infancy, toddlerhood, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, pregnancy, lactation, and older adulthood—it is never too early or too late to eat healthfully.
- For about the first 6 months of life, exclusively feed infants human milk. Continue to feed infants human milk through at least the first year of life, and longer if desired. Feed infants iron-fortified infant formula during the first year of life when human milk is unavailable. Provide infants with supplemental vitamin D beginning soon after birth.
- At about 6 months, introduce infants to nutrient-dense complementary foods. Introduce infants to potentially allergenic foods along with other complementary foods. Encourage infants and toddlers
to consume a variety of foods from all food groups. Include foods rich in iron and zinc, particularly for
infants fed human milk.
- From 12 months through older adulthood, follow a healthy dietary pattern across the lifespan to meet
nutrient needs, help achieve a healthy body weight, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Second, customize and enjoy nutrient-dense food and beverage choices to reflect personal preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations.
A healthy dietary pattern can benefit all individuals regardless of age, race, or ethnicity, or current health status. The Dietary Guidelines provides a framework intended to be customized to individual needs and preferences, as well as the foodways of the diverse cultures in the United States.
Third, focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages, and stay within calorie limits.
An underlying premise of the Dietary Guidelines is that nutritional needs should be met primarily from
foods and beverages—specifically, nutrient-dense foods and beverages. Nutrient-dense foods provide vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting components and have no or little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. A healthy dietary pattern consists of nutrient-dense forms of foods and beverages across all food groups, in recommended amounts, and within calorie limits.
The core elements that make up a healthy dietary pattern include:
- Vegetables of all types—dark green; red and orange; beans, peas, and lentils; starchy; and other vegetables
- Fruits, especially whole fruit
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grain
- Dairy, including fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, and/or lactose-free versions and fortified
soy beverages and yogurt as alternatives
- Protein foods, including lean meats, poultry, and eggs; seafood; beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products
- Oils, including vegetable oils and oils in food, such as seafood and nuts
Fourth, limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages.
At every life stage, meeting food group recommendations—even with nutrient-dense choices—requires most of a person’s daily calorie needs and sodium limits. A healthy dietary pattern doesn’t have much room for extra added sugars, saturated fat, or sodium—or for alcoholic beverages. A small amount of added sugars, saturated fat, or sodium can be added to nutrient-dense foods and beverages to help meet food group recommendations, but foods and beverages high in these components should be limited. Limits are:
- Added sugars—Less than 10 percent of calories per day starting at age 2. Avoid foods and beverages with added sugars for those younger than age 2.
- Saturated fat—Less than 10 percent of calories per day starting at age 2.
- Sodium—Less than 2,300 milligrams per day—and even less for children younger than age 14.
- Alcoholic beverages—Adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink, or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women, when alcohol is consumed. Drinking less is better for health than drinking more. There are some adults who should not drink alcohol, such as women who are pregnant.
Although individuals ultimately decide what and how much to consume, their personal relationships; the settings in which they live, learn, work, play, and gather; and other contextual factors—including their ability to consistently access healthy and affordable food—strongly influence their choices. Health professionals, communities, businesses and industries, organizations, government, and other segments of society all have a role to play in supporting individuals and families in making choices that align with the Dietary Guidelines and ensuring that all people have access to a healthy and affordable food supply.