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What’s in the New 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines?

Sharon Palmer

You probably heard all over the news that the new 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines were just released? What does that mean to you? Well, I was invited to attend the unveiling of the Dietary Guidelines last week, and I’m inviting you in on the news. First off, let’s start with what the Dietary Guidelines are. These Dietary Guidelines, produced by the US Department of Agriculture, serve as nutrition recommendations for the general public on how to follow a diet for good health. They become the foundation for federally funded nutrition programs such as the school lunch program, hospital patient meal service, and school breakfast program. These guidelines are updated every five years to reflect the new science that has been discovered regarding nutrition’s impact on health. The new 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were recently published on December 29th, 2020. They are based on a panel of nutrition experts that meet and pore over the body of science on nutrition in order to come up with a scientific committee report, which is then interpreted into the official set of Dietary Guidelines.

What’s in the New 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines?

The new Dietary Guidelines build off of the following years, but this time provide recommendations for infants, toddlers, and pregnant women. Also, this version reference the importance of individuals consuming culturally relevant foods that fit into the healthy eating patterns. 

The goal of the Dietary Guidelines this time is to promote a healthy lifestyle and provide healthy food for all Americans by emphasizing that every bite consumed counts. Also, the USDA has created a food plan for people to follow in order to increase the number of healthy eaters participating. The categories of the food plan include:

  • Thrifty
  • Low cost
  • Moderate cost
  • Liberal cost

What’s in the New 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines?

Four Overarching Goals

The new Dietary Guidelines stress the following:

  • Follow a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage.
  • Customize and enjoy nutrient-dense food and beverage choices to reflect preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations.
  • Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient dense foods and beverages that stay within calorie limits.
  • Limit food and beverages high in added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium and limit alcoholic beverage consumption

What’s in the New 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines?

Guidelines for Age Groups

The general guidelines are specified for each age group with recommended intake of food groups for a certain caloric intake. Guidelines for all the age groups across the lifespan are:

  • Guidelines for Infants and Toddlers:
    • Infants from zero to six months should strictly consume breastmilk or iron fortified commercial formula.
    • Families can search for donor breastmilk if they do not have enough.
    • USDA mentions that the milk must be screened for contaminates and provides a resource as to how to look for high quality donor milk.
    • Infants six to twelve months can be breastfed or continue consuming infant formula while being introduced to iron and zinc rich solid foods.
    • Infants should avoid cow’s milk, fruit juice, soda, and caffeinated beverages.
    • Plant-based alternatives that are not soy based may not provide similar nutrient profile to the child.
    • Recommend introducing peanut containing foods at 4-6 months to prevent allergic reactions from developing.
    • Toddlers are recommended to follow DGA and avoid the same drinks as infants.
    • Children who are vegetarian should have their vitamin B12 and protein levels measured to ensure adequate growth and development.
  • Guidelines for Adolescents:
    • Encourage physical activity and similar dietary guidelines from 2015-2020.
    • Provide info graphics for each age group within adolescents that highlights how much of each food group to consume for a specific caloric intake.
    • Mention that dairy is under consumed in this age group.
    • Want more children drinking fat-free or low-fat dairy or soy fortified alternative products to ensure healthy bone formation.
  • Guidelines for Adults:
    • Encourage healthy eating patterns and physical activity to prevent chronic disease and weight control.
    • Special considerations for this age group include dietary fiber, calcium, vitamin D, saturated fat, sodium, added sugar, and alcoholic beverages.
  • Guidelines for Pregnant Women
    • Same food group recommendations as other age groups with an emphasis on nutrient density for fetus development.
    • Provide extra calorie needs for each trimester and weight management for underweight, healthy, overweight, and obese pregnant women.
    • Special considerations for women are folate/folic acid, iron, iodine, choline, seafood that is low in mercury, and avoiding alcohol.
    • Mention to consult with doctor regarding caffeine intake.
    • Discuss the benefits of physical activity for pregnancy and postpartum and how often to part take in exercise.
  • Guidelines for the Elderly
    • Food groups are the same for all other age groups.
    • Special considerations include protein, vitamin B12, drinking enough water, and avoiding alcoholic beverages.
    • Mention that starting or continuing a healthy eating pattern during this life stage will help health outcomes associated with old age.

Also, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines is accompanied by a MyPlate app that individuals can use to help track how much of each food group he or she should consume.  Plus the app contains healthy recipe ideas and cooking demonstration videos for individuals who would like to learn more on how to cook at home. The Myplate website provides a short quiz that individuals can take to have a personalized nutrition plan designed and followed closely via the app. 

Overall, the general take-aways from the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are:

  • Emphasize nutrition related chronic health conditions and how healthy eating can prevent the onset of chronic disease.
  • Provide graphics of foods that are not nutritionally dense compared to those that are to encourage people to make healthy shifts.
  • Mentioned that nutrient dense culturally relevant foods and beverages are a part of all food groups.
  • Discuss the new nutrition facts label and how a consumer can use it at home and at restaurants.
  • Highlight that soy fortified milk can be a replacement for milk but other plant based dairy alternatives may not have the same nutrient profile as milk or soy-based alternatives.
  • Provided nutrition recommendations for each stage of life and promoted healthy eating to start as soon as possible.
  • Discuss how alcohol does not fit into a healthy eating pattern.
  • Did not highlight what is a sustainable diet, sustainable food system, or sustainable seafood consumption.

What’s in the New 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines?

My Impressions of the New Dietary Guidelines

Though I will take time to fully explore the impact of the Dietary Guidelines, I have a few initial impressions.

  • I like the emphasis on nutritional adequacy for various age groups and life cycles, which was sorely lacking in previous guidelines.
  • The inclusion of culturally relevant foods and affordability is a fabulous addition to the Dietary Guidelines, and should be strengthened in future versions.
  • Limiting added sugars, sodium, saturated fat, and alcoholic beverages is consistent with science, and I support that.
  • Focusing on dietary pattern, rather than individual nutrients, is a positive step in understanding healthful eating strategies, and this is a positive of the new Dietary Guidelines.
  • The focus on nutrient-dense eating is an excellent strategy that is worthy of highlighting.
  • It’s probably good to clear up the confusion on plant-based milks that are not nutrient-rich.
  • I am happy to see that examples of healthy eating patterns—the Healthy US-Style Diet, Mediterranean, and Vegetarian Diet—are carried over as examples of healthy eating plans one should consider adopting. These are all plant-based eating patterns.
  • The lack of sustainability in the Dietary Guidelines is appalling. Our diets may make the most significant individual impact over our lifetimes on the environment, and many other countries are including sustainability in their dietary guidelines.
  • There is little emphasis on reducing animal foods, especially red meat and processed meat, and increasing plant foods overall, though these actions have clear health and environmental benefits.
  • The Dietary Guidelines are influenced by the food industry, and this can be seen between the interpretation of the scientific committee report vs the final version.

If you would like to learn more about the new dietary guidelines, visit the Dietary Guidelines website and the Myplate website

Written by Sharon Palmer with Michelle Naragon.

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