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A Snapshot of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Dietary Guidelines

This snapshot provides a summary of the Dietary Guidelines and links to where you can access additional supporting content in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

This snapshot includes:

About the Dietary Guidelines

The Dietary Guidelines is published every 5 years by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. It is designed for professionals to help all individuals ages 2 years and older consume a healthy diet that meets nutrient needs. The focus of the Dietary Guidelines is on disease prevention and health promotion. Although the Dietary Guidelines is not intended to treat disease, it can be adapted by nutrition and health professionals to describe healthy eating to patients and clients.

Previous editions of the Dietary Guidelines focused mainly on individual components of the diet, such as food groups and nutrients. While food groups and nutrients are important, a growing body of scientific literature has examined the relationship between overall eating patterns, health, and risk of chronic disease. This literature base was sufficiently well-established to support recommendations on healthy eating patterns. As a result, eating patterns are the main focus of the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans includes three main chapters highlighting the themes of this edition:

Chapter 1: Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns

Chapter 2: Shifts Needed to Align with Healthy Eating Patterns

Chapter 3: Everyone Has a Role in Supporting Healthy Eating Patterns

The chapters are built around five Guidelines. It also includes 13 Key Recommendations with more details on what makes up healthy eating patterns. Additional information is provided throughout the text and appendices of the Dietary Guidelines.


Dietary GuidelinesThe Guidelines

  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. All food and beverage choices matter. Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce risk for chronic disease.
  2. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.
  3. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake. Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.
  4. Shift to healthier food and beverage choices.  Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across and within all food groups in place of less healthy choices. Consider cultural and personal preferences to make these shifts easier to accomplish and maintain.
  5. Support healthy eating patterns for all. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple settings nationwide, from home to school to work to communities.
     

What is a Healthy Eating Pattern?

An eating pattern can be defined as the combination of foods and beverages that make up an individual’s complete dietary intake over time. An eating pattern is more than the sum of its parts; it represents the totality of what individuals habitually eat and drink, and these dietary components act synergistically in relation to health. A healthy eating pattern should be tailored to the individual’s personal, cultural and traditional preferences as well as food budget. An individual’s healthy eating pattern will vary according to their calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce risk for chronic disease.


Key Recommendations

The Key Recommendations for healthy eating patterns should be applied in their entirety to reflect an overall healthy eating pattern.

  • Consume a healthy eating pattern that accounts for all food and beverages within an appropriate calorie level.
  • A healthy eating pattern includes:
    • ​A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups— dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
    • Fruits, especially whole fruits
    • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
    • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
    • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products.
    • Oils
  • ​A healthy eating pattern limits:
    • ​Saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.

Key Recommendations that are quantitative are provided for several components of the diet that should be limited. These components are of particular public health concern, and the specified limits can help individuals achieve healthy eating patterns within calorie limits:

  • Consume less than 10% of calories per day from added sugars
  • Consume less than 10% of calories per day from saturated fats
  • Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium
  • If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation – up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men – and only by adults of legal drinking age.

In addition to diet, physical activity is important to promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease. Diet and physical activity are the two parts of the calorie balance equation to help manage body weight. To help individuals maintain and achieve a healthy body weight, the Dietary Guidelines includes a Key Recommendation to:

The Executive Summary found within the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans sets the stage for the current edition, provides the Guidelines, Key Recommendations, and important footnotes about the Key Recommendations. The Introduction to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans includes important background information including facts about nutrition and physical activity-related health conditions, a discussion about the purpose of the Dietary Guidelines, and the process used to support the development of the Dietary Guidelines and its implementation. 

One way that health professionals, both within and outside of the Federal government, can communicate the Dietary Guidelines with the public is through MyPlate, which serves as a reminder to build healthy eating patterns by making healthy choices across the food groups.


Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns

A premise of the Dietary Guidelines is that nutritional needs should be met primarily from foods. All forms of foods – fresh, canned, dried, and frozen – can be included in healthy eating patterns. Importantly, foods should be in the most nutrient-dense form possible. These foods contain essential vitamins and minerals, dietary fiber, and other naturally occurring substances that may have positive health effects. Nutrient-dense foods include all vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans and peas, nuts and seeds, fat-free and low-fat dairy products and lean meats and poultry, when purchased, prepared, served and consumed with little to no added saturated fats, sugars, refined starches, and sodium.  

Chapter 1, Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns, provides the core concepts of healthy eating patterns and physical activity. The chart below describes and links to key sections of interest within Chapter 1. 

Note: Click on the top row to expand the chart. If you are on a mobile device, you may need to unlock your screen and turn your phone 90 degrees to see the full chart.

 

 


Shifts Needed to Align with Healthy Eating Patterns

The typical eating patterns currently followed by most individuals do not align with the Dietary Guidelines recommendations.

  • About three-fourths of the population has an eating patterns that is low in fruit, vegetables, dairy, and oils.
  • More than half of the population is meeting or exceeding total grain and total protein foods intake, but would benefit from increasing the variety of foods consumed within these food groups, to improve nutrient intake and adequacy.
  • Most Americans exceed the recommendations for added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.
  • Most Americans are consuming too many calories.

In addition, only 20 percent of adults meet the Physical Activity Guidelines, and would benefit from increasing the amount of physical activity they do each week.

To stay within calorie needs while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet, most individuals would benefit from selecting healthier options both across and within each food group, to choices that are more nutrient dense. In many food groups, foods as they are typically eaten are not nutrient dense—they often contain additional calories from added sugars and/or saturated fats, and many are also high in sodium. 
 
Chapter 2, Shifts Needed to Align with Healthy Eating Patterns, provides a snapshot of current eating patterns in the United States in comparison to the recommendations and describes shifts needed to align current intakes with recommendations. The chart below describes and links to key sections of interest within Chapter 2. 

Note: Click on the top row to expand the chart. If you are on a mobile device, you may need to turn unlock your screen and turn your phone 90 degrees to see the full chart.

 

Everyone Has a Role in Supporting Healthy Eating Patterns

Ultimately, each person makes the decision of what, where, when, and how much to eat, but making healthy food and beverage choices can be challenging because these decisions are rarely made in isolation. To shift from current eating patterns to those that align with the Dietary Guidelines, collective action across all segments of society is needed to create a culture in which healthy lifestyle choices at home, school, work, and in the community are easy, accessible, affordable, and normative.

Chapter 3, Everyone Has a Role in Supporting Healthy Eating Patterns, discusses a number of considerations related to translating the Dietary Guidelines into action. The chart below describes and links to key sections of interest within Chapter 3.

Note: Click on the top row to expand the chart. If you are on a mobile device, you may need to turn your phone 90 degrees to see the full chart.

 

 

Read the next section, Translating the Dietary Guidelines into Consumer Messages, to learn key points about communicating the Dietary Guidelines to your audience.