The recently released 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) encourage us to “Make Every Bite Count” for a healthy life, both now and as we age. The DGA is jointly published by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) every 5 years to provide science-based recommendations for healthy eating patterns for Americans from birth through older adults.
Why “Make Every Bite Count”?
What we eat has an important impact on our health, yet our daily food choices don’t reflect the science around nutrition and health.
The Healthy Eating Index (HEI) measures how closely Americans’ food and beverage choices follow the DGA recommendations. In 2005-2006, the HEI was 56 out of a maximum total score of 100. The HEI increased 1-2 points until it reached 60 in 2011-2012, and then it dropped to the current level of 59.
Based on the HEI, Americans earn a failing grade in food choices, which means that we’re missing out on a golden opportunity to improve our health not only today, but also as we age.
The science is clear that diet-related chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, liver disease, and some types of cancer, are major public health problems. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and major risk factors like high blood pressure and high LDL and total cholesterol are strongly implicated in heart disease and stroke.
Almost 11% of Americans have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, and almost 35% of adults have prediabetes that will lead to a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes unless changes are made in lifestyle habits including food choices and physical activity.
About 74% of American adults are overweight or obese, and about 40% of children and adolescents in the United States are overweight or obese. Unfortunately, the rate of obesity tends to increase with age. Obesity is strongly related to chronic disease, with higher rates of heart disease in people who are obese. Almost 90% of adults with diabetes are also overweight or obese.
Making every bite count by following the DGA plays a major role in reducing chronic disease and enabling people to lead a healthier, active life.
What should we eat for optimum health?
We can “Make Every Bite Count” by choosing nutrient-dense foods. Nutrient-dense foods are foods that contain important vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other health-promoting nutrients without a lot of added sugars, saturated fat or sodium. For example, an apple is a nutrient-dense food, while caramel apples contain added sugars. A baked potato is a nutrient-dense food, while potato chips or French fries are high in saturated fat and sodium.
The core food groups that make up a healthy eating pattern include:
- Vegetables of all types: dark green (such as spinach, green beans and broccoli); red and orange (such as tomatoes and carrots); beans, peas, and lentils; starchy (such as corn, peas, potatoes, plantains and winter squash); and other vegetables
- Fruits, especially whole fruit as opposed to fruit bars, dried fruit, or sweetened fruit
- Grains such as cereal, crackers, bread, rice and pasta; at least half of which are whole grain
- Dairy, including fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, and/or lactose-free versions and fortified soy beverages and yogurt
- Protein foods, including lean meats, poultry, and eggs; seafood; beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products such as tofu, edamame or tempeh
- Oils, including vegetable oils (such as olive oil and canola oil) and oils in food, (such as seafood, avocado and nuts)
Approximately 85% of our daily calories need to come from nutrient-dense foods from each food group to support good health. Think of the remaining 15% of calories as "choice foods" that can be used for added sugars and saturated fat, or simply larger portions of healthier foods.
Currently, we fall short in these key areas:
- 75% of people don’t eat enough vegetables, fruit and dairy products.
- 63% consume too much added sugar.
- 77% consume too much saturated fat.
- 90% consume too much sodium.
How much saturated fat, added sugar, and sodium is too much?
The DGA recommend these limits:
- Less than 10% of calories from added sugars starting at age 2 years.
- From birth until age 2, the new recommendation is to avoid added sugars completely.
- Less than 10% of calories from saturated fat starting at age 2 years.
- No more than 2300mg of sodium per day.
Now let's look at concrete ways to make every bite count -- don't miss the post The Food and Health Guide to Making Every Bite Count!
By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CHWC
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. Make Every Bite Count: USDA, HHS Release Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2020/12/29/make-every-bite-count-usda-hhs-release-dietary-guidelines-americans published 12-29-2020; accessed 1-13-21.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf published December 2020. Accessed 1-13-21
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.