By April Dupee, MS, and Christine Sinclair, MA, MS, dietetic interns, Department of Nutrition

Christine Sinclair

Christine Sinclair

April Dupee

April Dupee

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide nutrition and dietary recommendations for those living in the U.S. The dietary guidelines have evolved over the years based on emerging nutrition science paralleled with rising rates of chronic diseases across the country.

Diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and other chronic conditions are more prevalent today than ever before. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we are becoming increasingly aware of the link between nutrition, diet and health outcomes.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans is a benchmark guide that includes the latest research and recommendations for health promotion and disease prevention given the current landscape of our food supply and intake. Published every five years, the dietary guidelines and supporting research inform health policy and federal and state government programs, such as the National School Lunch Program.

Although there has been criticism of the development of the guidelines at times, the DGA Advisory Committee has worked to provide greater transparency into the process for developing the guidelines while providing actionable and practical recommendations.

Key Takeaways from the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines

So, what’s new? There is buzz surrounding the new inclusion of healthy diet pattern recommendations for infants and toddlers. The 2020-2025 Guidelines, released in December 2020, expands upon nutrition tips for children included in previous versions of the guidelines and emphasizes the importance of nutrition and a healthy eating pattern from childhood to adulthood.

The guidelines include the following recommendations:

  • If and when possible, exclusive breastfeeding, along with vitamin D supplementation, is encouraged for infants up to six months old to provide essential nutrients, bioactive substances and immunologic properties.
  • Limit sugar-sweetened beverages like fruit juices and prioritizing nutrient-dense snack options such as whole fruit and lean meats between the ages of 4-6 months when infants start to show signs of developmental readiness.

Establishing healthy eating habits in the early years of life is critical because these habits impact growth, development and food choices throughout the lifespan.

Enjoy a Customized Nutrient-Dense Healthy Eating Pattern

Past and current guidelines emphasize healthy dietary patterns over individual nutrients, foods or food groups, recognizing that individuals do not eat foods or nutrients in isolation. The guidelines recommend focusing on nutrient-dense foods and beverages while keeping calorie limits in mind.

Keep the following in mind to create healthy eating patterns:

  • Load up your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, protein, dairy and healthy oils.
  • Limit foods and beverages that are higher in added sugar, saturated fat and sodium. Specifically, added sugar and saturated fat should both be less than 10 percent of daily calories and daily sodium intake should remain under 2300 mg.

When it comes to alcoholic beverages, there are some differing recommendations:

  • The guidelines suggest limiting alcoholic beverages to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. These recommendations, which are consistent with previous versions of the guidelines, have received some criticism.
  • The latest Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report, which informs the Dietary Guidelines, recommends one drink a day for both men and women, citing research linking alcohol consumption to increased all-cause mortality risk.
  • Additionally, the report suggests no added sugar in the diet is preferable. As such, critics believe the latest Dietary Guidelines should have provided a further reduction in alcohol and added sugar recommendations. Nonetheless, many Americans are still not meeting these current guidelines and would benefit from working towards these limits.

Lastly, the 2020-2025 guidelines emphasize the importance of customizing this healthy dietary pattern to reflect personal preferences, cultural traditions and budgetary considerations. By developing an enjoyable healthy dietary pattern that meets personal preferences, individuals can create a sustainable nutritious diet that they can follow throughout their lives.

How Registered Dietitians Can Help You

So where do we go from here? Since the beginning of the Dietary Guidelines, registered dietitians have been referenced as the go-to health professionals in nutrition. From public health to food management to clinical dietetics, registered dietitians utilize the latest research to provide nutrition guidance and clinical care. With specialties in a variety of fields and sectors, registered dietitians can help with many nutrition needs.

For more information on the nutrition services offered at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, please visit our website.

Guidelines through the years