The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) are a guide for Americans for food choices to promote health and meet nutritional needs. The DGAs get updated every five years from health professionals and was most recently updated in 2020. The most recent edition of the dietary guidelines is titled "Make Every Bite Count With the Dietary Guidelines".
While the complete DGA document is full of valuable information, the 150+ page count might be overwhelming.
Fortunately, our team of dietitians has done the heavy lifting and gone through the new 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Find out the highlights and quick overview of what you should know, without all that reading!
What Are the DGAs?
The DGAs are nutritional guidelines from the most up-to-date nutrition science and research for what foods Americans should be eating daily. The DGAs suggest what to eat and drink for a healthy, adequate diet that can help promote health, reduce the risk of chronic diseases and meet nutritional needs for most Americans.
The DGAs are not a guideline for treating any diseases. Therefore, anyone who has a health condition may need altered nutrition suggested by the DGAs. The Dietary Guidelines focus on the general public, including healthy individuals, as well as those with overweight or obesity and those who are at risk of chronic disease.
How can you easily follow the DGAs without sifting through the 164-page document? Follow the suggestions from MyPlate on the web or in the app. MyPlate suggests how many servings of each food group to get in a day based on sex and age.
MyPlate also shows how your plate should look at mealtimes:
• Half of the plate is fruits and vegetables
• One-quarter of the plate is a protein
• The other quarter of the plate is a grain
• A serving of dairy is included
Other main takeaways from MyPlate:
• Vary your veggies and protein sources
• Focus on eating whole fruits over fruit juices
• Whole grains should make up at least half your grain foods
• Choose low or nonfat dairy choices
The Most Important Takeaways of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020
The DGAs have been in place since 1980. Every five years they get updated based on the latest research. Here are the main takeaways from the 2020 DGAs.
Healthy Dietary Pattern at Every Life Stage
The DGAs provide nutritional guidelines for every stage of life from infants and toddlers to the elderly including pregnancy and lactation. The rationale for providing nutritional guidelines at every life stage is it is never too early or late to eat healthy. Nutritional needs vary throughout life, and adjusting food intake through aging is important to meet nutritional needs.
According to data from 2015, only 60 percent of Americans adhere to the DGAs. The goal is to get more Americans adhering to the DGAs throughout the life cycle.
Personal Preferences, Cultural Traditions, and Budget Considerations
Following the DGAs can benefit all individuals regardless of age, race, or ethnicity, or current health status. The DGAs are not so inclusive or prescriptive that only certain demographics can adhere to them. The DGAs (MyPlate) are customizable to fit personal preferences, culture and budget considerations.
MyPlate offers tips for healthy eating on a budget and gives suggestions for providing various options within each food group. For example, on the MyPlate fruit webpage, it lists fruits can include fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed depending on preferences and what is available
Focus on Nutrient-Dense Foods
A main focus of the Dietary Guidelines is nutritional needs should be met primarily from nutrient-dense foods and beverages. The DGAs define nutrient-dense foods and those that provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting components and have little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.
Examples of nutrient-dense foods include vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, whole grains, legumes, low-fat dairy, nuts, and seeds. Examples of foods and beverages that are not nutrient-dense include soda pop, candy, fried foods, baked goods, chips, etc.
Overall, when putting meals together, focus on including a variety of nutrient-dense foods.
Limit Added Sugars, Saturated Fat, Sodium, and Alcoholic Beverages
The DGAs also give guidelines for what to limit in your diet. A small amount of added sugars, saturated fat, or sodium can be added to nutrient-dense foods and beverages.
The 2020 DGAs give specific limitations to the following:
• Added sugars—Less than 10 percent of calories per day starting at age 2. Avoid foods and beverages with added sugars for those younger than age 2.
• Saturated fat—Less than 10 percent of calories per day starting at age 2.
• Sodium—Less than 2,300 milligrams per day—and even less for children younger than age 14.
• Alcoholic beverages—Adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink, or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women when alcohol is consumed. Drinking less is better for health than drinking more. Pregnant women and other adults with certain health conditions should avoid alcohol.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf.