What's Changed in the Latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans?
You might have missed this important information when it was first released, so here's what you need to know right now.
You're probably familiar with the food pyramid and its companion MyPlate, but what you may not know is that these catchy infographics are based on the official Dietary Guidelines issued by the U.S. government every five years. Their goal is to help Americans develop and maintain healthy eating habits and ward off diet-related chronic diseases; they have a wide-ranging impact, influencing food stamp policies and school lunch menus, and, indirectly, influencing how food companies manufacture their products. The latest iteration of these recommendations, which will be updated again in 2025, aren't a significant departure from the previous ones, but there are some notable changes.
Eating Healthy at Different Life Stages
For one, the new guidelines now offer guidance by stage of life, from birth to older adulthood, including pregnancy and lactation, emphasizing that it's never too early or too late to eat healthy. They also incorporate an understanding of the cultural factors that can influence the foods we eat, and they have a big-picture approach, emphasizing a healthy dietary pattern as opposed to simply making healthy choices here and there.
Overall, though, the gist of the guidelines remains similar: follow a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage; customize and enjoy nutrient-dense food and drinks that reflect your personal preferences, cultural traditions and budgetary considerations; focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages, and stay within calorie limits; and limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.
Alcohol and Added Sugar
Some nutrition experts have criticized the new guidelines for not adjusting maximum limits for alcohol and added sugar. The new guidelines' recommended maximum limit for alcohol is one drink a day for women and two for men; and for added sugars, it's less than 10 percent of calories per day for ages two and up. Experts say the daily limit for both women and men should be one drink a day, citing evidence that higher alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of death. They also point to research showing Americans should actually limit their added sugar consumption to closer to six percent of daily calories (not 10 percent), given the evidence that sugary drinks can contribute to obesity and weight gain and higher rates of chronic health conditions like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Make Every Bite Count
Still, the guidelines offer a call to "make every bite count," which we can certainly get behind. Choose foods rich in nutrients, and have only a small amount of your calories (~15 percent) left over for added sugars, saturated fat, and, (if consumed) alcohol. Focus on developing an ongoing pattern of healthy eating—that's where you'll make the greatest impact on your health.