A Dietitian’s Take on the New Dietary Guidelines for Americans

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They’re here!

There’s a lot of excitement surrounding the long-awaited release of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The DGA are updated every 5 years under the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act, which requires that the US Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) base the updates on the most current scientific and medical research. The DGA are designed for Americans age 2 years and older, and are used to develop federal food, nutrition, and health policies and programs, as well as public education materials for schools, businesses, community groups, media, and the food industry.

Overall, the DGA remain very similar to the 2010-2015 edition. However, there are 4 changes to the DGA that all health educators need to note:

  1. The guidelines are shifting away from focusing on individual nutrients to consume or avoid, and are instead recommending healthy eating patterns that can be used as a framework for people to enjoy foods that meet their cultural, personal, and traditional food preferences. The foods should also promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  2. A recommendation to decrease added sugar intake to no more than 10% of calories was added. Finally, we have specific guidance on added sugar intake that most likely will drive changes in the nutrition facts label so that we can clearly identify the amount of added sugar in foods.
  3. Somewhat of a surprise recommendation is that teenage boys and men are singled out to reduce intake of protein by replacing meat, chicken, and eggs with vegetables.
  4. This edition of the DGA removes specific limits on cholesterol intake. Past versions of the DGA recommended limiting cholesterol to no more than 300mg per day.

Although the focus of the DGA is now on healthy eating patterns instead of individual nutrients, there is still a specific emphasis on reducing saturated fat to no more than 10% of calories and reducing sodium to 2300 mg per day for everyone over the age of 14 in order to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The three healthy eating patterns described include:

  • The Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern, which is the same as the primary USDA Food Patterns of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines.
  • The Healthy Mediterranean-Style Eating Pattern
  • The Healthy Vegetarian Eating Pattern

Each eating pattern is described in detail in a separate appendix, and includes recommended food group intakes at 12 different calorie levels.

The DGA includes a variety of helpful tools for RDNs to use in our practice, such as the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, estimated calorie needs by age, sex and activity level, specific information on food sources of potassium, vitamin D, fiber and calcium, a list of websites with additional information and references, alcohol guidelines, and food safety principles.

It was hoped that the DGA would for the first time include information on sustainable food systems, and there is controversy over the recommendations on saturated fat intake. However, overall, the DGA provide a wealth of helpful information and resources. I download a copy of the DGA as a pdf file so that I can easily and quickly search for information and find it a useful tool.

By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CWC


2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 8th edition. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/ Released 1-7-16.

But wait, there's more! We've just finished a super-comprehensive PowerPoint presentation about the new edition of the guidelines. This show comes with 5 brand-new PDF handouts, and it's a resource that you simply won't want to miss!

2015DGA3dcd grande A Dietitian's Take on the New Dietary Guidelines for Americans

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