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.

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Feb. 06, 2021 See more In-depth

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