Just a few days before the calendar turned to 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health & Human Services released the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This document is updated and published every five years, with the intention to present the most current scientific evidence about what people should eat and drink to promote health, meet nutrient needs and reduce the risk of chronic disease. And, with more than half of all adults in America challenged with a diet-related chronic disease, this is more important than ever.
This blog presents three things you should know about the new Guidelines, which you can read in their entirety at www.dietaryguidelines.gov. It’s important to note that the key values, such as macronutrient recommendations and general guidelines remain consistent with the previous edition of the Guidelines.
While following an eating plan—what the Guidelines call a dietary pattern—based on this document is a safe and effective way to approach nutrition and long-term health and wellness, be sure to talk to your doctor about any nutrient deficiencies or special requirements based on your specific health status.
1. They cover every stage of life, from infancy to old age.
No matter your age, it is never too late or too early to begin eating healthfully. The Guidelines feature dietary recommendations for all life stages—infants and toddlers, children and adolescents, adults, women who are pregnant or lactating, and older adults.
The Guidelines provide three frameworks that can be used as starting points from you can eat more healthfully—the Healthy U.S.-Style Dietary Pattern, the Healthy Mediterranean-Style Dietary Pattern and the Healthy Vegetarian Dietary Pattern.
Each of these can be modified to meet your specific needs and preferences. These guidelines should be viewed as an adaptable framework that can be modified to best support optimal health, rather than as a rigid set of instructions that outline exactly what foods, nutrients, food groups and quantities you should eat and drink.
2. They recommend nutrient-dense foods and beverages within calorie limits while accounting for personal preferences, cultural differences, and budgetary considerations.
Nutrient-dense foods and beverages provide minerals, vitamins and other health-promoting elements with little or no added sugar, sodium or saturated fat. The Guidelines include recommendations for food groups—vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, protein foods and oils—that form the core elements of a healthy dietary pattern across each life stage. The challenge is to eat enough of these nutrient-dense foods while staying within appropriate calorie limits.
Following a healthy dietary pattern does not allow much room for added sugars, saturated fat and sodium, but small amounts can be added to nutrient-dense foods and beverages to help attain food group recommendations. Most of the calories you need to eat each day (around 85%) are required to meet food group recommendations in a healthful way, leaving around 15% of your calories for less-healthy choices.
Using the Guidelines, specific food and beverage choices can be made to support individual needs and preferences, while respecting the unique dietary practices of various cultures. The key is to start with your personal preferences, incorporate cultural traditions and be mindful of budgetary considerations.
3. They encourage true behavior change.
The tagline for the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is “Make Every Bite Count With the Dietary Guidelines,” which reflects a shift in how this document addresses nutrition. In fact, this version of the Guidelines aligns perfectly with ACE’s focus on long-term behavior change and the goal of making the best, most healthful choice you can at each opportunity.
Adopting and maintaining a healthy dietary pattern often feels like an overwhelming task that must be accomplished perfectly to be effective. However, in this most current version of the Guidelines, an emphasis is placed on taking small steps each day and with each food and beverage choice to move toward a healthier and more enjoyable way of eating. You can view every meal or snack as an opportunity to make the most healthful choice. The Guidelines suggest making healthy choices one day at a time and nutrient-dense choices one food at a time.
To turn the Guidelines into a more practical and actionable resource, check out MyPlate. This consumer-focused tool can help you adapt the Guidelines to meet your personal preferences, cultural traditions and foodways, and budgetary considerations to achieve healthy dietary patterns.