Since 1980, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in coordination with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been jointly releasing a set of dietary guidelines for Americans every five years. These guidelines serve as the cornerstone of federal nutrition programs and policies and offer science-based advice for choosing foods that promote overall health and prevent diet-related chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and obesity. On December 28, 2020, the 2020-2025 dietary guidelines were released with some major changes, including aspects of nutrition that have never been addressed before.
Let’s take a look at what ‘Dietary Guidelines’ are and the key points of the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines:
Each stage of life is distinctive and has unique needs that affect health and disease risk. For instance, early food preferences influence food and beverage choices later. However, science has evolved to focus on the importance of a healthy dietary pattern over time and also shows that to yield health benefits in the short term and cumulatively over years, it’s never too late to start and maintain a healthy dietary pattern.
Considering this fact, dietary guidelines are released jointly by USDA and HHS every five years for Americans. According to the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act of 1990, the guidelines are mandated to reflect the prevalence of scientific evidence. The Dietary Guidelines, which is based on scientific evidence offer health-promoting diets in the general U.S. population who are healthy, those at risk for diet-related diseases, and those living with these diseases.
2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines
Early dietary guidelines majorly focused on the link between individual nutrients and health, but in reality, people choose foods and not nutrients. The 2020-2025 update recognizes this and provides tools to help people make healthier choices. The first edition to provide guidance for every life stage, the new 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines emphasize that it’s never too late to start eating better. It urges Americans to make every bite count with these four recommendations:
- Follow a Healthy Dietary Pattern at Every Life Stage: Early food preferences -at every life stage including infancy, toddlerhood, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, pregnancy, lactation, and older adulthood – influences later choices. A healthy diet in childhood may have benefits over a lifetime.
a. Starting from infants, for about the first 6 months of life, mothers have to exclusively feed their baby with breast milk. If breast milk is unavailable, infants have to be fed with an iron-fortified formula during the first year of life. You can continue to breastfeed your child through at least the first year of life, and longer if desired. Along with breast milk, provide infants with supplemental vitamin D beginning soon after birth.
b. At about 6 months, introduce infants to nutrient-dense complementary foods and encourage them to consume a variety of foods – rich in iron and zinc – from all food groups.
c. From 12 months through older adulthood, follow a healthy dietary pattern across the lifespan. This will help meet nutrient needs, achieve a healthy body weight, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
- Customize and enjoy nutrient-dense food and beverage choices to reflect personal preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations:
The guidelines provide a framework proposed to be customized to individual needs and preferences – regardless of age, race, or ethnicity, or current health status.
- Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages, and stay within calorie limits:
The primary goal of the Dietary Guidelines is that nutritional needs should be met primarily from nutrient-dense foods and beverages. These 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 – that provides vitamins, minerals and other substances that have health benefits – across all food groups, in recommended amounts, and within calorie limits. Few major elements that make up a healthy dietary pattern include:
a. Vegetables of all types – such as dark green; red and orange; beans, peas, and lentils; starchy; and other vegetables
b. Fruits, especially whole fruit
d. Dairy – fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, and/or lactose-free versions and fortified soy beverages and yogurt as alternatives
e. Protein foods – including lean meats, poultry, and eggs; seafood; beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products
f. Oils – including vegetable oils and oils in food, such as seafood and nuts
- Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages:
A healthy dietary pattern doesn’t have space for extra added sugars, saturated fat, or sodium-or for alcoholic beverages. To help meet food group recommendations, a small amount of sugars, saturated fat, or sodium can be included, but foods and beverages high in these components should be limited.
However, Americans are still not meeting these above recommendations. According to research by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the overconsumption of alcohol, added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat in Americans leads to a variety of health consequences, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer.
One of the major changes in the new edition Dietary Guidelines includes specific recommendations for all life stages, now including infants and toddlers, pregnant and lactating women.
According to the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a soaring percentage of American adults are dealing with diet and lifestyle related diseases, which reflect poor nutrition, lack of physical activity and excessive alcohol use. Their research notes that:
- About 74% of adults and 40% of children and young adults are obese
- About 45% of adults are dealing with hypertension
- Almost 11% of Americans are diagnosed with type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- Almost 35% of American adults have prediabetes
- A large number of Americans don’t get enough calcium, potassium, dietary fiber and vitamin D.
Maintaining a healthy dietary pattern beginning at the earliest life stage can overcome all these issues and help people achieve and maintain good health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. It is never too early or too late to improve intake and establish a healthy dietary pattern.
The bottom line: For lifelong good health, make every bite count with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans!