Boiling down the dietary guidelines

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans call for more veggies and whole grains, and less salt, sugar and saturated fat.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans offer science-based advice for choosing foods that promote health and prevent disease. Early guidelines focused on the link between individual nutrients and health.

In reality, of course, people choose foods not nutrients. The 2020-2025 update recognizes this and provides tools to help you make healthier choices.

Four key recommendations

The 2020-2025 dietary guidelines emphasize that it's never too late to start eating better. The guidelines urge Americans to make every bite count with these four recommendations:

  • Follow a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage. Because early food preferences influence later choices, a healthy diet in childhood may have benefits over a lifetime.
  • Customize and enjoy nutrient-dense foods and beverages. The guidelines provide a framework that you can adapt to your needs, preferences, traditions and budget.
  • Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages, and stay within calorie limits. Nutrient-dense foods provide vitamins, minerals and other health-promoting components.
  • Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages. These foods add calories but few nutrients.

What is a healthy dietary pattern?

A dietary pattern is the total of what you eat and drink. A healthy dietary pattern includes nutrient-dense foods and beverages from all of the food groups:

  • Vegetables of all types — dark green; red and orange; beans, peas and lentils; starchy and others
  • 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 lactose-free or fortified soy beverages and yogurts
  • Protein, including lean meats, poultry and eggs; seafood; beans, peas and lentils; nuts, seeds and soy products
  • Oils, including vegetable oils and oils in food such as seafood and nuts

What is a nutrient-dense food?

A nutrient-dense food is one that provides vitamins, minerals and other substances that have health benefits.

Nutrient-dense foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans, peas, lentils, unsalted nuts and seeds, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and lean meats and poultry. They contain little or no added sugars, saturated fat and sodium.

Where do I need to cut back?

Most Americans eat too much sodium and too many calories from saturated fat and added sugars. Even if you aren't overweight, too much sodium, saturated fat and added sugars in your diet can increase your risk of heart disease and other problems.

A diet that meets your nutrition needs doesn't have much room for added sugars, saturated fat or sodium. You don't have to eliminate them completely. You can enjoy them within these limits:

  • Added sugars: Less than 10% of calories a day
  • Saturated fat: Less than 10% of calories a day
  • Sodium: Less than 2,300 milligrams a day

Alcoholic beverages too add calories but few nutrients. You can choose not to drink alcohol. But if you do drink, limit yourself to no more than one drink a day if you're a woman or two drinks a day if you're a man.

Make a healthy shift

For your health, aim for an overall pattern of eating that meets your nutritional needs and helps you maintain a healthy weight.

Choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods from all the food groups. Remember to stay below the limits for added sugars, saturated fat and sodium. Every bite is an opportunity to make a healthy choice.

Get the latest health information from Mayo Clinic’s experts.

Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

Feb. 06, 2021 See more In-depth

See also

  1. MIND diet may cut Alzheimer's risk
  2. 3 diet changes women over 50 should make right now
  3. 3 key changes in the new Nutrition Facts label
  4. Acai berries
  5. Added sugar
  6. Alcohol use
  7. Alkaline water
  8. Are energy drinks bull?
  9. Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes
  10. Autism spectrum disorder and digestive symptoms
  11. Bad food habits at work? Get back on track in 5 steps
  12. Best oil for cooking?
  13. Breastfeeding nutrition: Tips for moms
  14. Caffeine: How much is too much?
  15. Is caffeine dehydrating?
  16. Calorie calculator
  17. The role of diet and exercise in preventing Alzheimer's disease
  18. Can whole-grain foods lower blood pressure?
  19. Carbohydrates
  20. Chart of high-fiber foods
  21. Cholesterol: Top foods to improve your numbers
  22. Coconut water: Is it super hydrating?
  23. Coffee and health
  24. Diet soda: How much is too much?
  25. Dietary fats
  26. Dietary fiber
  27. Prickly pear cactus
  28. Does soy really affect breast cancer risk?
  29. Don't get tricked by these 3 heart-health myths
  30. Don't go cuckoo for coconut water
  31. Eat more of these key nutrients
  32. Eggs: Bad for cholesterol?
  33. Fiber: Soluble or insoluble?
  34. Fish and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
  35. Fit more fiber into your diet
  36. Get to know the new Nutrition Facts label
  37. Grape juice health benefits
  38. Guidelines for a good ileostomy diet
  39. Healthy-eating tip: Don't forget fiber
  40. Hidden sources of sodium
  41. High-fructose corn syrup
  42. High-protein diets
  43. How the right diet can help an overactive bladder
  44. How to track saturated fat
  45. Takeout containers
  46. Is there more to hydration than water?
  47. Juicing is no substitute for whole foods
  48. Juicing
  49. Limit bad fats, one step at a time
  50. Make food labels required reading
  51. Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  52. MUFAs
  53. Need a snack? Go nuts!
  54. Need more fiber? Take 3 steps
  55. Nutrition rules that will fuel your workout
  56. Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health
  57. Omega-3 in fish
  58. Omega-6 fatty acids
  59. Phenylalanine
  60. Play it safe when taking food to a loved one in the hospital
  61. Protein: Heart-healthy sources
  62. Health foods
  63. Portion control
  64. Planning healthy meals
  65. High-fiber diet
  66. Sodium
  67. Step away from the saltshaker
  68. Stevia
  69. Taurine in energy drinks
  70. Time to cut back on caffeine?
  71. Trans fat
  72. Underweight: Add pounds healthfully
  73. Want a healthier dinnertime? Science says change your eating space
  74. Daily water requirement
  75. Functional foods
  76. What is clean eating?
  77. What's considered moderate alcohol use?
  78. What's the difference between juicing and blending?
  79. Why does diet matter after bariatric surgery?
  80. Working out? Remember to drink up
  81. Yerba mate