2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

January 4, 2021By Karin F.R. Moore

At long last, and with just two days remaining in 2020, HHS and USDA released the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Guidelines).  For those who work in and around the food industry, the Guidelines are a big deal (I could quote Joe Biden here, but I won’t). The report is also a big deal for those outside the food industry, though they may not know it.  The Guidelines form the basis of federal nutrition policy and programs, which touch at least one in four Americans every month. These programs include the National School Lunch Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (formerly “Food Stamps”), Special Nutritional Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), as well as feeding programs for the elderly.  The Guidelines also direct FDA regulations for food, including the labeling, such as health claims and the Nutrition Facts Panel.

Of particular note – and the source of criticism by some in the public interest space – the Guidelines rejected some of the July 2020 recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), tasked with providing USDA and HHS with a scientific review of specific topics and supporting scientific questions on nutrition and health (discussed in our blog post here).  Specifically, the DGAC recommended lowering the limit for added sugars from 10% to 6% of the daily calories and limiting daily consumption of alcoholic beverages for men from two drinks per day to one. Neither of these recommendations were adopted in the Guidelines. The new Guidelines continue to advise people to eat a diet of primarily fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and poultry, low-fat dairy, seafood, nuts and vegetable oils. They specifically suggest limiting added sugar and alcohol, along with saturated fats and sodium, and staying within recommended calorie limits.

Here are some highlights of the 2020-2025 Guidelines:

  • The Guidelines are structured around four basic recommendations:
    • Follow a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage;
    • Customize and enjoy nutrient-dense food and beverage choices to reflect personal preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations;
    • Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages, and stay within calorie limits; and
    • Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages.
  • The Guidelines acknowledge that a small amount of added sugars, saturated fat, or sodium can be added to nutrient-dense foods and beverages to help meet food group recommendations, but foods and beverages high in these components should be limited.  The recommended limits are:
    • Added sugars—Less than 10 percent of calories per day starting at age 2.  For the first time, the Guidelines recommend that those younger than 2 avoid foods and beverages with added sugars.
    • Saturated fat—Less than 10 percent of calories per day starting at age 2.
    • Sodium—Less than 2,300 milligrams per day—and even less for children younger than age 14.
    • Alcoholic beverages—Consistent with the prior version of the Guidelines, adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink, or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women, when alcohol is consumed. Drinking less is better for health than drinking more. There are some adults who should not drink alcohol, such as women who are pregnant.