WASHINGTON – With the theme of “Make Every Bite Count,” and addressing the changing nutritional needs of people at all stages of life, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) released the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans on Dec. 29. The science-based guidelines are jointly published every five years, dating back to 1980, with the newest version covering the period from 2020 to 2025. For the first time, the guidance includes dietary recommendations for infants and toddlers as well as women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Developed by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and utilizing public comments and input from federal agencies, the recommendations build on previous versions and are intended to be used by health care professionals and lawmakers by providing a basis for federal nutrition programs.

The executive summary of the 146-page guidelines states, “Federal data show that from the first edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 1980 through today, Americans have fallen far short of meeting its recommendations, and diet-related chronic disease rates have risen to pervasive levels and continue to be a major public health concern.”

“The science tells us that good nutrition leads to better health outcomes, and the new dietary guidelines use the best available evidence to give Americans the information they need to make healthy decisions for themselves and their families,” said Alex Azar HHS secretary. “USDA and HHS have expanded this edition of the dietary guidelines to provide new guidance for infants, toddlers, and pregnant and breastfeeding women, helping all Americans to improve their health, no matter their age or life stage.”

Of note in the new guidelines was a focus on limiting intake of sugar and alcohol, which was addressed in the 2015-2020 edition, but no quantitative changes were made to the new guidelines. Already established alcohol consumption recommendations limit men to two drinks or less per day and one drink or less in a day for women, according to the previous dietary guidelines. Sugar intake should make up less than 10% of daily calories per day, starting at the age of 2.

According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, “The Dietary Guidelines emphasizes the importance of limiting intakes of added sugars and alcoholic beverages but does not include the changes to quantitative limits recommended by the [Advisory] Committee.”

In its summary of the 2020-2025 guidelines, the HHS and USDA stated, “…there was not a preponderance of evidence in the material the committee reviewed to support specific changes, as required by law. As in previous editions, limited intake of these two food components is encouraged.”

The four points emphasized by the new guidelines included: Following a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage, from infancy through adulthood; consumption of nutrient-dense foods and beverages that meet personal preferences, affordability considerations and cultural traditions; meeting nutritional needs within caloric limits by consuming vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and fortified soy alternatives and proteins; and limiting the intake of alcohol and foods and beverages with added sugar (less than 10% of daily calories), sodium (less than 2,300 mg per day), and saturated fat (less than 10% of daily calories).

The new guidelines for infants and toddlers stated:  

• For about the first 6 months of life, exclusively feed infants human milk. Continue to feed infants human milk through at least the first year of life, and longer if desired. Feed infants iron-fortified infant formula during the first year of life when human milk is unavailable. Provide infants with supplemental vitamin D beginning soon after birth.

• At about 6 months, introduce infants to nutrient-dense complementary foods. Introduce infants to potentially allergenic foods along with other complementary foods. Encourage infants and toddlers to consume a variety of foods from all food groups. Include foods rich in iron and zinc, particularly for infants fed human milk.

After 12 months of age through adulthood, the Dietary Guidelines recommended following a healthy dietary pattern to meet nutrition requirements and maintain a healthy body weight, reducing the risk of disease.

The guidelines said healthy diets include the consumption of core foods, which include:  

• Protein foods, including lean meats, poultry and eggs; seafood; beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products

• Vegetables of all types

• Fruits, especially whole fruit

• Grains, 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 as alternatives

• Oils, including vegetable oils and oils in food, such as seafood and nuts