New U.S. Diet Guide Emphasizes Balance Through Life

December 29, 2020 – New federal dietary guidelines for Americans were released on Tuesday, offering advice on what to eat by life stage, including information on babies from birth to 2 years old for the first time since 1985.

Published by the US Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, the guidelines are designed to represent government advice for the next 5 years. While a panel of experts assembled to help develop the guidelines recommended calling for limits on added sugar and alcohol, federal officials chose not to include these suggestions.

“Making Every Bite Count” is the theme of the ninth edition of the guidelines, which have been issued every 5 years since 1980. The publication is mandated by the National Nutrition Surveillance Act 1990 and in place and assess federal policies on food, nutrition and health, and to help people adopt healthy diets.

“Science tells us it’s never too early or too late to eat healthy,” Admiral Brett Giroir, MD, assistant secretary of health, said at an event Tuesday unveiling the guidelines. The emphasis, he says, should be on healthy eating habits; not a single food, but rather “how all the food and drink a person consumes adds up over time.” The new guidelines also insist on taking into account personal preferences, cultural traditions and budgets.

The new guidelines continue to support many of the recommendations from previous ones, says Connie Diekman, dietitian and food and nutrition consultant in St. Louis and past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Science continues to support the evidence for leaner, less fat, and more plant-based foods,” she says.

She welcomed the updated and specific information for infants and toddlers. Information for this group is badly needed, she said. “This group [making the recommendations] tackled this, and it is no easy task. “

Four guidelines

Four basic guidelines are recommended, including:

  • Follow a healthy diet at every stage of life, from birth to adulthood. The guidelines offer specific information by step.
  • Personalize the foods and drinks you eat and drink to suit your personal preferences, traditions and budgets.
  • Focus on meeting the needs of food groups with nutrient-dense foods and drinks, within calorie limits. (The guidelines give examples of typical foods versus foods high in nutrients. Plain low fat yogurt with fruit, for example, is high in nutrients; whole yogurt with added sugars is typical.) Food groups include vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy products, and fortified soy alternatives and proteins.
  • Limit foods and drinks higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. And limit alcoholic drinks.

Updated information for infants and toddlers

From birth to 1 year, or older if desired, exclusively breast milk is preferred. If unavailable, use iron fortified infant formula. Provide vitamin D supplement soon after birth.

Foods rich in nutrients can be started at 6 months of age, including potentially allergenic foods. A variety of foods from all food groups are needed, and foods rich in iron and zinc should be included.

Added sugars, saturated fat, sodium, alcohol

As before, authorities recommend that most of a person’s daily calories come from nutrient-dense choices, with little room for added sugars, saturated fat, sodium, or alcoholic beverages. The recommended limits are:

  • Less than 10% of calories from added sugars, from the age of 2 years. Avoid added sugars before the age of 2.
  • Less than 10% of calories per day from saturated fat, from 2 years old.
  • Less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day; less for children under 14.
  • No more than two alcoholic drinks per day or less for men and one for women.

The expert group had recommended lower limits on sugars and alcohol, but officials said Tuesday that science had yet to confirm the recommendation.

Nutrition by older stages of life

The guidelines also contain recommendations for other stages of life. Among them:

  • Since 41% of children aged 2-18 are overweight or obese, emphasis should be placed on diet to aid weight gain while promoting normal growth and development. Physical activity should be encouraged.
  • Physical activity is also encouraged, along with a healthy diet, for adults aged 19 to 59. Aim for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, as well as muscle-building activities.
  • For pregnant and breastfeeding women, the report offers advice on changing calorie needs and weight management.
  • Adults 60 years and older have lower caloric needs but similar or higher nutritional needs.

Put recommendations into action

In the guidelines, the appendix includes caloric requirements for all age groups and for three levels of physical activity.

Along with the guidelines, public health officials have published a variety of resources to help people implement them. On, users can review their current eating routine and choose ways to switch to choices that are nutritionally better.

WebMD Health News


US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Health & Human Services: “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025”.

Connie Diekman, Registered Dietitian, Food and Nutrition Consultant and Former President, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Saint-Louis.

Media availability, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Health and Human Services, December 29, 2020.

Press Release, USDA, HHS: “Make Every Bite Count: USDA, HHS Releases Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.”

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