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Dietary Guidelines Make Every Bite Count

At a time when health and nutrition is top of mind for the vast majority of people, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have jointly published the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. These science-backed guidelines build on previous editions to provide evidence-based dietary recommendations that promote health and may help prevent chronic disease.

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines maintains an emphasis on the importance of healthy dietary patterns, that is, the combination of foods and beverages that constitutes an individual’s complete dietary intake over time. Because foods are not consumed in isolation, the guidelines emphasize the importance of adopting a healthy dietary pattern as a whole rather than focusing on individual nutrients, foods, or food groups. Selecting nutrient-dense foods and beverages over less healthy alternatives throughout a person’s life is critical to prevent disease risk and improve health outcomes.

What’s New

For the first time, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines includes recommendations for children 0-2 years of age and takes a life stage approach, providing guidance for infants and toddlers, children and adolescents, adults, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and older adults. This approach recognizes that each life stage is distinct, with unique nutritional needs critical for growth and development, maintenance, and better health outcomes. It also recognizes the implications of food and beverage choices on health throughout a person’s life. Early food preferences influence what a person chooses to eat later on, making it even more important to establish a healthy dietary pattern at a young age and carry it forward from one stage to the next. Doing so has a beneficial impact on health promotion and disease prevention in later years.

The Overarching Guidelines

Comprised of four overarching guidelines, the Dietary Guidelines provide a framework that allows people with different backgrounds, preferences, traditions, beliefs, and economic circumstances the ability to customize their diet in a healthful way to make every bite count. 

  • Follow a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage.
  • Customize and enjoy nutrient-dense food and beverage choices to reflect personal preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations. 
  • Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages and stay within calorie limits. 
  • Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages. 

More Specifics

With its emphasis on nutrient-dense foods and beverages—core elements that make up a healthy dietary pattern—the Dietary Guidelines encourage the consumption of foods that provide vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting components. These foods generally fall into the following categories: 

  • Vegetables of all types
  • Fruits, especially whole fruit
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grain
  • Dairy, including fat-free or low-fat products and soy products as alternatives
  • Protein foods, including lean meats, poultry, and eggs, seafood, beans, peas, and lentils, and nuts
  • Oils, including vegetable oils and oils in food, such as seafood and nuts

In addition, the guidance around added sugars, saturated fat, sodium, and alcoholic beverages remains unchanged.

  • Limit added sugars to less than 10 percent of calories per day starting at age 2. Infants younger than age 2 should avoid foods and beverages with added sugars
  • Limit saturated fat to less than 10 percent of calories per day starting at age 2
  • Limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams per day, and even less for children younger than age 14
  • Generally speaking, the consumption of alcoholic beverages should be limited. Adults of legal drinking age who choose to drink alcoholic beverages should limit intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women. Some adults should refrain from drinking alcohol altogether, including women who are pregnant.

Opportunities for Science of Food Professionals

According to the 2020 Food and Health Survey conducted by the International Food Information Council, consumer familiarity with the Dietary Guidelines has increased from 23% in 2010 to 41% in 2020. As awareness continues to increase, it is likely that consumers will continue to seek foods and beverages that benefit health.  Professionals in the science of food have a critical role in helping consumers achieve a healthy dietary pattern by developing healthy options. 

The Dietary Guidelines recognize the evolution of food and beverage products in the marketplace due to public health concerns.  The new guidelines encourage focusing on the entire food or beverage product, rather than individual nutrients or ingredients, while developing a new product or reformulating.  The life stage approach also provides opportunities to develop and reformulate nutrient-dense food and beverage products that could be part of a healthy dietary pattern that individuals choose to adopt for themselves and/or their family to meet the unique needs of each life stage.

Helpful Resources

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, along with frequently asked questions and additional resources, are available online. To help people establish a healthy eating pattern aligned with the Dietary Guidelines, the USDA also offers various references, resources, and tools on its MyPlate website

The Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods is a valuable tool for people to use to help make more informed decisions about the nutritional content of foods they plan to purchase and eat. The Nutrition Facts label clearly identifies the number of calories and amount of added sugars, saturated fats, dietary fiber, sodium, and other nutrients and food components in each serving of food. For more information on how to use the Nutrition Facts label, check out our toolkit.

References

 U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. DietaryGuidelines.gov.

International Food Information Council. “2020 Food & Health Survey.” June 9, 2020. https://foodinsight.org/2020-food-and-health-survey/.

 

About the Author

Farida Mohamedshah is director of food, health, and nutrition at the Institute of Food Technologists ([email protected]).

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