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.
Remember, because these are government guidelines, they are within the scope of practice of all health coaches and exercise professionals and can be shared with clients. You can read the full document at www.dietaryguidelines.gov.
Here are three things health coaches and exercise professionals should know about the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
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 which to empower clients to 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 the specific needs and preferences of all people. These guidelines should be viewed as an adaptable framework that can be modified to meet the specific needs of an individual to best support optimal health, rather than as a rigid set of instructions for telling people exactly what foods, nutrients, food groups and quantities to 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 a person’s daily caloric intake (around 85%) are required to meet food group recommendations in a healthful way, leaving around 15% of a person’s 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 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. Encourage your clients to 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, introduce your clients to MyPlate. This consumer-focused tool can help people to adapt the Guidelines to meet their personal preferences, cultural traditions and foodways, and budgetary considerations to achieve healthy dietary patterns.
What You Need to Know
If you are studying for an ACE Certification exam: Your ability to pass your exam will not be impacted by this update to the Guidelines, as macronutrient recommendations and general guidelines for healthful eating remain consistent with the previous edition of the Guidelines. While you should certainly take the time to familiarize yourself with this new document, there is no need to be concerned about relearning content you may have already studied. ACE certification exams assess your ability to apply what you have learned—for example, about nutrition-related scope of practice, general recommendations for healthy dietary patterns and dietary concerns related to certain diseases.
If you are an ACE Certified Professional: It is important to familiarize yourself with these new guidelines, as they form an evidence-based nutrition resource that you can share with clients while staying within your defined scope of practice. The focus on lifelong behavior change is an opportunity to demonstrate to your clients that the strategies and content you have been sharing with them based on your ACE education is supported by the latest edition of the Guidelines.