The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are designed to help you eat healthier. They outline how you can improve your overall eating patterns — the complete combination of food and drink in your diet. The information from the federal government is evidence-based and can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases and obesity.
Nutritionists gather in Washington, D.C., every five years to update the dietary guidelines. The last time they were updated was in 2015, but they’ll be refreshed again next year. In fact, the process is already underway and we’re hearing the new guide will include proper diets for babies 2 years old and younger in an effort to address growing dietary mistakes for young children.
Let’s review what a healthy diet should look like so you can make sure you are following healthy eating patterns. Here’s a breakdown of the 2015-2020 dietary guidelines for Americans.
Supporting Healthy Diets
One of the first things the Dietary Guidelines for Americans point out is a pattern of eating that supports a healthy diet. You should consume a healthy eating pattern that accounts for all foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level.
- A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starch
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
- A variety of protein including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products
A vegetarian diet usually consists of whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and it does not contain any meat. It is considered a healthy diet, because it has been proven to be effective in improving overall health and preventing a number of diseases.
A healthy diet limits:
- Saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars and sodium
- Consume less than 10% of calories per day from added sugars
- Consume less than 10% of calories per day from saturated fats
- Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium
If you drink alcohol, it should be consumed in moderation — up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men — and only by adults of legal drinking age.
Develop A Healthy Diet Plan
There are some simple changes you can make to your current food and beverage choices that will help you eat healthier right away.
- Enjoy your food but eat less by avoiding oversized portions. Americans consume 16% more food (523 calories) each day than they did 40 years ago. Since the number of meals eaten away from home has doubled over the same time period, at least some of this increase can be traced to the “super-sizing” trend in restaurant portions. Packaged food has gone through a similar transformation over the years.
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Plant-based foods — especially red, yellow, and dark green vegetables, peas, beans and fruits — pack in nutrients without adding excess fat or sugar to your meal.
- Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk. Reduced-fat dairy products supply healthy amounts of protein and calcium while limiting saturated fat.
- Reduce sodium intake. Compare the sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals and chose the foods with lower numbers. Excess sodium intake is linked to high blood pressure as well as an increased risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney damage. Adults and children should keep their intake at 1,500mg (the amount in 2/3 teaspoon of salt) based on their heart disease risk factors.
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks. Beverages with added sugar such as soda, sports drinks and sweetened fruit juice add extra calories without the benefit of increased nutrition. A recent study suggests that sugary drinks may raise blood pressure.
The dietary guidelines advisory committee is already working on the next round of recommendations. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines development will be out in the spring.
For more information on dietary guidelines, see www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines.
You can also get additional tips for eating healthy in our guide: “Eating Healthier on a Busy Schedule.”