What are the Dietary Guidelines for Americans?
The DGA provides Americans of all ages with evidence-based nutritional and physical activity information and recommendations. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) are published by the USDA and the HHS every five years in order to provide Americans of all ages with evidence-based nutritional and physical activity information and recommendations. The USDA hopes to provide nutrition guidelines and advice for Americans and health professionals at every stage of life to promote healthy eating and lifestyle. The goal of the Dietary Guidelines is to help policymakers develop, implement, and evaluate nutrition, food, and health policies and programs. The committee also aids in developing nutrition education materials for USDA and HHS nutrition programs based on trending topics.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which is made up of the nation’s top nutrition and medical researchers, academics, and practitioners, creates a report preceding each new set of nutrient guidelines. The committee looks at the research and creates a report that is sent to the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. The government uses information from the report, along with input from federal and public agencies, to develop the DGAs.
The three main aims of the DGAs are to promote health and prevent disease, focus on dietary patterns, and take a lifespan approach. The following text provides information on how to create a healthy diet and lifestyle. It includes general dietary recommendations, communicated in an easily understandable way through infographics, graphs, and step-by-step instructions.
Unfortunately, most Americans do not follow the Dietary Guidelines. The USDA has found that the average American is not significantly improving their eating habits over the past 10 years. The USDA is hoping to use the DGA as a tool to improve the health of Americans by increasing the HEI scores.
What Changed in the 2020-2025 Nutrient Guidelines
Recommendations Added for Infants, Toddlers, and Pregnant & Lactating Women
Pregnant and Lactating Women
The Committee looked at evidence that shows how important nutrition is for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. They found that good nutrition is essential for the mother and baby to stay healthy. A healthy diet before and/or during pregnancy may lower the risk of gestational diabetes, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, excessive weight gain during pregnancy, and preterm birth. The Committee’s review suggested that seafood choices are important components of a healthy dietary pattern, along with other core components, including vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, low-fat or nonfat dairy, lean meat and poultry, nuts, and unsaturated vegetable oils. This is important for both pregnancy and lactation.
Pregnant and lactating women share similar health concerns with the rest of the population when it comes to food components such as vitamin D, calcium, dietary fiber, and potassium. However, iron and folate/folic acid levels are also important to pay attention to during pregnancy. If women who are pregnant do not take supplements or make careful food choices, they are at high risk of not getting enough of these nutrients. The Committee has decided that eating a healthy diet during pregnancy and while breastfeeding will fulfill most nutrient requirements. Some key nutrients that women should focus on consuming during pregnancy are iron, folate, choline, and vitamins D and E. It is important to incorporate foods rich in choline, and vitamins A, D, and E during lactation. Although a pregnant woman needs more iron than a woman who is not pregnant, a nursing mother does not need as much iron as she did when she was pregnant. Therefore, unless a doctor says otherwise, a nursing mother does not need to take a prenatal supplement that contains a high level of iron.
Infants and Toddlers
The Committee recommended that mothers exclusively breastfeed their infants for the first six months of life and then continue breastfeeding for as long as both the mother and infant desired. The Committee found that there was not enough evidence to introduce complementary foods and beverages before 4 months old. The Committee found that there is no long-term advantage or disadvantage to introducing solid food to infants at 4 to 5 months old as compared with 6 months old. It recommended that CFB include foods that are rich in iron and zinc, either intrinsically (eg, meats) or due to fortification (eg, iron-fortified infant cereal), particularly from the age of 6 to 12 months among breastfed infants. Complementary foods should contain adequate amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, as well as include beverages. The Committee decided that once babies are introduced to solid foods (at around 6-12 months old), giving them small amounts of peanuts and eggs as part of a meal may help to prevent them from developing an allergy to these foods. The Committee could not find any evidence to support the claim that avoiding other potentially allergenic foods in the first year of life prevents food allergies or other atopic diseases.
The committee finds that there is not enough evidence to support routine iron supplementation of breastfed infants, although it acknowledges that screening for iron deficiency with appropriate biomarkers (such as serum ferritin) may be challenging. Other sources of iron should be provided after 6 months, so iron supplementation is not needed. The Committee came to the conclusion that there is no evidence to support the idea that infants need more than 400 IU of vitamin D per day.
The Committee Capitalized words for emphasis. A diet cannot be recommended for infants 6 to 12 months old because it is not clear how much of each nutrient they need, and it is difficult to get enough iron from complementary foods. However, combinations of CFB were described by the Committee as that would meet most nutrient requirements while infants are still consuming different proportions of human milk or infant formula. The Committee’s recommendation is to provide infants and toddlers with a variety of animal-source foods (meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy), fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and whole-grain products, starting at 6 to 12 months and continuing after that. For toddlers 12 to 24 months old, the Committee advised providing eggs and dairy products on a regular basis, along with soy products and nuts or seeds, fruits, vegetables, grains, and oils.
Two Years and Older
The Committee’s evidence review found that dietary patterns higher in vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, low-fat or nonfat dairy, lean meat and poultry, seafood, nuts, and unsaturated vegetable oils, and low in red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, and refined grains are associated with a range of beneficial health outcomes. Healthy dietary habits can lead to a reduced risk of death from any cause, cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, bone issues, and various types of cancer. The basics of a healthy diet remain the same no matter what your age is.
After reviewing the evidence linking dietary fats and cardiovascular disease risk, the Committee advised limiting saturated fat intake to less than 10% of daily calories, replacing them with unsaturated fats, and keeping dietary cholesterol intake as low as possible. The Committee recommended 2 or more servings of seafood per week for individuals 2 years and older to ensure they are getting key nutrients and as part of an overall healthy dietary pattern. Different age groups should aim to consume different amounts of seafood based on federal and local advisories, with an emphasis on seafood that is high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in methylmercury. For those who do not eat seafood, the Committee concluded that it is appropriate to eat other foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids on a regular basis, such as flaxseeds, walnuts, soy oil, algae, and eggs.
The Committee also investigated the connection between drinking and weight. After studying different types of beverages, it was found that those that are richer in nutrients (such as fat-free or low-fat milk and 100% juice) make a significant contribution to the overall intake of food and nutrients. However, it is important to be aware of how much energy these drinks add to the diet overall. The Committee suggested that people should only consume a small number of sugary drinks because they provide a lot of energy but not many nutrients.
Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle Across Varying Preferences and Cultures
As nutrition professionals, we know that eating patterns are largely influenced by both individual preferences and culture. The Dietary Guidelines for 2020 provide recommendations that take into account cultural and individual preferences. The DGA suggests nutrient requirements based on food groups rather than suggesting specific meals or foods. Some examples of healthier additions to meals are Korean and South American vegetables. Using spices and herbs can also help to cut down on salt and fat intake. The goal is not to be too specific and allow people to make the nutrient guidelines and recommendations work for them.
The USDA has stated that there is still more work to be done in order to improve cultural competency for the Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate. They identify a gap in the nutrition research available to them that would be necessary to make educated recommendations for different cultures. More inclusion is something that many nutrition and health professionals hope to see with each release of the Dietary Guidelines. The reason being is that the chronic diseases that are focused on within the guidelines disproportionately affect people of color. To bridge the gap between healthcare professionals and patients, we must have a strong understanding of the eating habits and preferences of different cultures, races, and ethnicities. This will enable us to make informed recommendations and meal plans.
What Did Not Change in the 2020-2025 Nutrient Guidelines
Mention of Environmental Impact
The guidelines are still disappointing many by emphasizing a diet that is high in meat, eggs, and dairy. A diet high in animal-based foods could have a greater impact on the environment than they already do. The production of animal-based foods tends to release a large amount of greenhouse gases. The justification for promoting a diet with a negative environmental impact is being questioned by healthcare professionals as many of the claims for increasing animal-based products have not been backed by significant evidence, especially when climate change is such a rapidly growing threat. Some people argue that sustainability and nutrition are not related, while others say they are connected.
Added Sugar & Alcohol Recommendations
The latest guidelines from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommend decreasing the intake of added sugar and alcohol. The report concluded that reducing the daily intake of added sugar from 10% to 6% would have health benefits. The organization suggests that men should consume a maximum of one alcoholic beverage per day, as opposed to the current recommended limit of two drinks. This recommendation is based on outdated information from 1990.
The USDA said that they didn’t make changes based on the research because it wasn’t enough to justify a change between the 2015 and 2020 recommendations. They still recommend limiting your intake of added sugar, and they emphasize how important it is. The main reason for not changing the alcohol limit for men is the same as for women. There is a theory that the authorities decided not to make the recommendations stricter because they were afraid that people would see them as unachievable and would not bother trying to follow them.
Basic Guidelines for Healthy Eating
The overall principles of creating a healthy diet have not changed significantly in the latest edition of the guidelines. The USDA continues to advocate for the consumption of vegetables from all food groups, fruits, whole grains, fat-free/low-fat dairy products, protein foods, and oils. You should limit your intake of added sugars, saturated fats, sodium, and alcohol.
However, the USDA created a new call to action to implore Americans to “Make Every Bite Count!” through four steps:
- 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 food and beverages, and stay within calorie limits.
- Limit food and beverages higher in added sugars and saturated fats, and limit alcoholic beverages.
The DGA strives to educate Americans on how to create the healthiest diet possible for their lifestyle by choosing the right foods and beverages. Instead of labeling foods as good or bad, this approach provides Americans with the tools to understand the difference between nutrient- and calorie-dense foods. The goal is to give people the information they need to make simple swaps based on dietary trends.