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.

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. Healthy-eating habits
  5. Reduce sugar in your diet
  6. Acai berries
  7. Added sugar
  8. Alcohol use
  9. Alkaline water
  10. Are energy drinks bull?
  11. Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes
  12. Autism spectrum disorder and digestive symptoms
  13. Bad food habits at work? Get back on track in 5 steps
  14. Best oil for cooking?
  15. Boost your calcium levels without dairy? Yes you can!
  16. Breast-feeding nutrition: Tips for moms
  17. Caffeine: How much is too much?
  18. Is caffeine dehydrating?
  19. Calorie calculator
  20. The role of diet and exercise in preventing Alzheimer's disease
  21. Can whole-grain foods lower blood pressure?
  22. Carbohydrates
  23. Chart of high-fiber foods
  24. Cholesterol: Top foods to improve your numbers
  25. Coconut water: Healthy drink or marketing scam?
  26. Coffee and health
  27. Diet soda: How much is too much?
  28. Dietary fats
  29. Dietary fiber
  30. Prickly pear cactus
  31. Does soy really affect breast cancer risk?
  32. Don't get tricked by these 3 heart-health myths
  33. Don't go cuckoo for coconut water
  34. Make healthy snack choices
  35. Eat more of these key nutrients
  36. Eggs: Bad for cholesterol?
  37. Energy drinks
  38. Fiber: Soluble or insoluble?
  39. Fish and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
  40. Fit more fiber into your diet
  41. Get to know the new Nutrition Facts label
  42. Grape juice health benefits
  43. Guidelines for a good ileostomy diet
  44. Is chocolate healthy?
  45. Healthy heart for life: Avoiding heart disease
  46. Healthy-eating tip: Don't forget fiber
  47. High-fructose corn syrup
  48. High-protein diets
  49. Alcohol during the holidays: 4 ways to sip smarter
  50. Holiday weight: How to maintain, not gain
  51. How the right diet can help an overactive bladder
  52. How to track saturated fat
  53. Takeout containers
  54. Is there more to hydration than water?
  55. Juicing is no substitute for whole foods
  56. Juicing
  57. Depression and diet
  58. Limit bad fats, one step at a time
  59. Make food labels required reading
  60. Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  61. MUFAs
  62. Multigrain vs. whole grain
  63. Need a snack? Go nuts!
  64. Need more fiber? Take 3 steps
  65. Nutrition Facts label
  66. Nutrition rules that will fuel your workout
  67. Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health
  68. Omega-3 in fish
  69. Omega-6 fatty acids
  70. Phenylalanine
  71. Play it safe when taking food to a loved one in the hospital
  72. Protein: Heart-healthy sources
  73. Reduce sugar in your diet
  74. Health foods
  75. Portion control
  76. Planning healthy meals
  77. High-fiber diet
  78. Social eating can be healthy and enjoyable
  79. Sodium
  80. Sodium: Look beyond the saltshaker
  81. Stevia
  82. Tap water or bottled water: Which is better?
  83. Taurine in energy drinks
  84. The best foods for healthy skin
  85. Time to cut back on caffeine?
  86. Time to scale back on salt?
  87. Trans fat
  88. Underweight: Add pounds healthfully
  89. Want a healthier dinnertime? Science says change your eating space
  90. Daily water requirement
  91. Functional foods
  92. What is clean eating?
  93. What's considered moderate alcohol use?
  94. What's the difference between juicing and blending?
  95. Why does diet matter after bariatric surgery?
  96. Working out? Remember to drink up
  97. Yerba mate