It’s not what you eat today, last week or last month. It’s what you’ve consumed your whole life that impacts your overall health.
The current version of the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, supports this big-picture look at health through the recent publishing of the Guidelines by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services.
“Make every bite count” is the theme of the Guidelines’ ninth edition. Issued every five years since 1980, publication is mandated by the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act of 1990. Guidelines are built on previous reports to promote health and prevent chronic disease. They’re used to develop, put in place and evaluate federal food, nutrition and health policies and to help people eat a healthy diet.
These science-based Guidelines, according to Dietitian Chrisanne Urban, Marshfield Clinic Health System, provide recommendations for healthy dietary patterns from birth through older adult years and “focusing on making every bite count,” she said. “Chronic disease doesn’t develop overnight and that’s the important thing to look at.”
This edition calls to limit added sugars and alcoholic beverages. It also expands guidance for the first time, she said, to include healthy dietary patterns for infants and toddlers as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Guidelines also provide the nutritional foundation for federal nutrition programs, like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) or food banks, but aren’t meant to be considered clinical guidelines for disease treatment.
“Anyone can benefit from them even if they’re healthy, since no matter what your health status is you can benefit by preventing chronic disease,” Urban said. “They can be used by businesses and communities, too, since this is our government at work.”
Dietary patterns are part of the Guidelines, too.
“I like the way they put this,” Urban said. “It’s a combination of foods and beverages that constitutes an individual’s complete dietary intake over time, not just per day, the whole week, the whole month. It’s taking a look at the big picture at every life stage.
“The Guidelines encourage us to enjoy nutrient-dense food and beverages from the five food groups – vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and soy alternatives and proteins – that reflect preferences, food traditions and your budget. Also, they encourage limiting food and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fats and sodium as well as limiting alcoholic beverages.”
Updated information for infants, toddlers
- From birth through age 1 or longer if desired, human milk exclusively is preferred. If unavailable, use iron-fortified infant formula. Provide supplemental vitamin D soon after birth.
- Nutrient-dense foods can start at 6 months, including potentially allergenic foods. A variety of foods from all food groups is needed. Foods rich in iron and zinc should be included.
Added sugars, saturated fats, sodium, alcohol
As before, officials recommend that most of a person’s daily calories come from nutrient-dense choices, with little room left for extra added sugars, saturated fat, sodium or alcoholic beverages. Recommended limits are:
- Less than 10% of calories from added sugars, starting at age 2; avoid added sugars before age 2.
- Less than 10% of calories daily from saturated fat, starting at age 2.
- Less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day; less for children younger than age 14.
- No more than two alcoholic drinks a day or less for men, and one for women.
Nutrition by older life stages
Recommendations for other life stages include the following:
- Because 41% of children ages 2-18 are overweight or obese, emphasize eating to ease weight gain while supporting normal growth and development. Physical activity should be encouraged.
- For adults ages 19-59, healthy eating and physical activity are encouraged. Aim for 150-300 minutes of moderate physical activity weekly, plus muscle-building activity.
- For pregnant and lactating women, the report offers guidance on changing calorie needs and weight management.
- Adults 60 and older have lower caloric needs but similar or higher nutrient needs.
Want more helpful info for your diet plan? Click on the USDA’s MyPlate website.