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Dietary guidelines for Americans 2015–2020

22 February, 2016

USA dietary guidelines

The new dietary guidelines for Americans were recently published by the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. These guidelines are updated once in 5 years, and thus the current version is for 2015–2020. The basic rationale and general principles are phrased as follows: healthy eating patterns support a healthy body weight and can help prevent and reduce the risk of chronic disease throughout periods of growth, development, and aging as well as during pregnancy. All foods consumed as part of a healthy eating pattern fit together like a puzzle to meet nutritional needs without exceeding limits, such as those for saturated fats, added sugars, sodium, and total calories. All forms of foods, including fresh, canned, dried, and frozen, can be included in healthy eating patterns. Individuals should aim to meet their nutrient needs through healthy eating patterns that include nutrient-dense foods. Foods in nutrient-dense forms contain essential vitamins and minerals and also dietary fiber and other naturally occurring substances that may have positive health effects. In some cases, fortified foods and dietary supplements may be useful in providing one or more nutrients that otherwise may be consumed in less than recommended amounts.

The document states that about three-quarters of the US population has an eating pattern that is low in vegetables, fruits, dairy, and oils, and that most Americans exceed the recommendations for added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. The nutritional data are also presented for males and females separately and for several age groups. Young children and older Americans generally are closer to the recommendations than are adolescents and young adults. It seems that, from age 50 onward, women roughly deviate a little from the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, grains and protein foods, but eat much less dairy than advised.

Despite recent news and alarms in regard to the health hazards of processed meats, the guidance does recommend eating lean meats and poultry, and it notes that eating less meat, including processed meat and processed poultry, has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease. But it does not offer specific instructions or limits around red and processed meats. For the first time, the 2015 guidelines tackle added sugars, recommending they make up less than 10% of Americans’ diets. Those do not include naturally occurring sugars, like those in milk or fruit. The guidance also recommends that we get less than 10% of our calories per day from saturated fats. These include butter, whole milk, meats that are not lean, and tropical oils such as coconut or palm oil. In a change from past guidelines, eggs are now included among recommended protein foods. Also included are seafood, lean meats and poultry, legumes (beans and peas), and soy products, along with nuts and seeds. The guidelines mention coffee for the first time and say that having a moderate amount of it can be part of a healthy eating plan. Interestingly the guidelines do not propose restricting how much total fat we eat. No more than 2300 mg of sodium per day should be consumed. If you wish to read more, please refer to the link below.

Amos Pines

Sackler School of Medicine, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel


Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020