Every five years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture revise the nation’s Dietary Guidelines. These recommendations are meant to serve as a blueprint for health professionals as well as an educational tool for the American public on what comprises a healthy diet.
Previous editions of the Dietary Guidelines focused on specific food groups and nutrients. The latest edition, released on January 7, 2016, recognizes that people do not eat food groups and nutrients in isolation. Rather, foods and beverages are consumed in combination, forming an eating pattern. The goal of the latest Dietary Guidelines is to help all Americans adopt eating patterns that promote overall health and help prevent chronic disease.
According to the 2015 Guidelines, there are 5 overarching guidelines that contribute to a healthy eating pattern:
- Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan
- Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount
- Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake
- Shift to healthier food and beverage choices
- Support healthy eating patterns for all
More specifically, a healthy eating pattern should include:
- A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
- Fruits, especially whole fruits
- 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 foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
And a healthy eating pattern should limit:
- Saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium
- Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars
- Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats
- Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium
- If alcohol is consumed, 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.
The guidelines explain that Americans will need to shift their food intakes in order to align with a healthier eating pattern. The U.S. population, across almost every age and sex group, consumes a diet too low in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy, seafood and oil, and too high in refined grains, added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.
Additionally, the Dietary Guidelines discuss what is needed in order to translate their recommendations into action. They acknowledge that it will require a concerted effort among health professionals, businesses and industries, organizations, governments, and other segments of society to support individuals and families in making lifestyle choices that align with the Dietary Guidelines.