Hundreds of nutrition and health providers spend their career researching the obvious connection between food and our health. This research is crucial in helping to guide us in counseling our clients and patients on what to eat and drink for their lifestyle every single day. We know that lifestyle and nutrition interventions can significantly decrease the incidence and prevalence of chronic diseases; and we as nutrition professionals are responsible for helping our clients digest and interpret this information.
Enter the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a tool that provides evidence-based nutrition guidelines and advice for Americans and nutrition and health professionals, in hopes of improving eating habits, reducing the risk of chronic disease, and meeting overall nutritional needs. A new edition is published every five years. In this post, we break down the most important changes to the 2020-2025 edition of the nutrient guidelines.
Healthie’s practice management software enables corporate wellness providers, and the companies they partner with, to streamline program processes, deliver on-site & virtual counseling to employees alike, offer expanded nutritional care programs, and track health outcomes.
What are the Dietary Guidelines for Americans?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) are published by the USDA and the HHS every five years. As we mentioned above, the USDA hopes to provide nutrition guidelines and advice for Americans and health professionals at every stage of life, to promote healthy eating and lifestyle. The Dietary Guidelines are also published with the goal of guiding policymakers as they develop, implement, and evaluate nutrition, food, and health policies and programs. It also helps the USDA and HHS develop nutrition education materials for their nutrition programs based on trending topics.
Preceding each new set of nutrient guidelines is a report created by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee; this committee is made up of the nation’s top nutrition and medical researchers, academics, and practitioners. This committee examines current nutrition and health research, which is presented in a report to the USDA and HHS. The government uses information in the report, along with input from federal and public agencies, to ultimately develop the DGAs.
In regards to the general public, the DGAs have three main aims: (1) promote health and prevent disease, (2) focus on dietary patterns, (3) lifespan approach. These nutrient guidelines hope to educate Americans on how to build a healthy diet and lifestyle, by providing general dietary recommendations, communicated in comprehensible and logical facets: infographics, graphs, and step-by-step guidelines.
Unfortunately, most Americans do not follow the Dietary Guidelines. The USDA has found that the average American scores a 59 out of 100 on the Health Eating Index, a number that has failed to improve significantly over the past 10 years. Higher HEI scores have the ability to improve the health of Americans; the USDA hopes to use the DGA as a tool to do so.
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What Changed in the 2020-2025 Nutrient Guidelines
✓ Recommendations Added for Infants, Toddlers, and Pregnant & Lactating Women
For the first time, the DGAs take a lifecycle approach to their nutrition guidelines . This meant including new categories for infants and toddlers, as well as women who are pregnant and lactating.
The infant and toddler section included recommendations around how long to breastfeed, proper techniques, and how to build a balanced diet for babies after weaning. It also included guidelines for introducing allergen-containing foods, such as peanuts, milk, and eggs. The last important recommendation was that children under 2 do not consume foods containing any added salt or sugar, to avoid developing any preference for them later in life, leading to overweight and obesity.
While the nutrient guidelines aren’t wildly different from those for women who are not pregnant/lactating, this new and comprehensive section on healthy dietary trends, patterns, and food safety during pregnancy is crucial for promoting adequate nutrition during this time. It includes recommendations for calorie increases during each stage of pregnancy and lactation, weight management considerations, and points out nutrients of value for women to consume.
✓ Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle Across Varying Preferences and Cultures
We know as nutrition professionals that eating patterns are largely influenced by both individual preference and culture. The Dietary Guidelines for 2020 make an attempt to make recommendations that can incorporate cultural and individual preferences. Instead of suggesting specific meals or foods, the DGA makes nutrient requirement recommendations based on food groups. For example, they include Korean and South American vegetables, and make a note that spices and herbs can help reduce salt and fat intake. The hope is to avoid being too prescriptive and allow Americans to adapt the nutrient guidelines and recommendations to their personal preferences.
However, the USDA has acknowledged they still have a ways to go in terms of cultural competency for the Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate. They identify a gap in nutrition research available to them, that would be necessary to make educated recommendations for different cultures. Many nutrition and health professionals hope to see more inclusivity with each release of the Dietary Guidelines, due to the fact those chronic diseases that are emphasized within the guidelines disproportionately affect people of color. In order for healthcare professionals to close that gap, we must have a strong foundational knowledge of the eating patterns and preferences of different cultures, races, and ethnicities, so that we can make appropriate recommendations and meal plans.
What Did Not Change in the 2020-2025 Nutrient Guidelines
✓ Mention of Environmental Impact
To the disappointment of many, the nutrient guidelines still emphasize a diet relatively high in meat, eggs, and dairy foods. There is no mention of the environmental impacts of a diet high in such food groups; an increase in these types of foods could have an even greater impact on the environment than they already do; the production of animal-based foods tends to release a large amount of greenhouse gases. Many of these claims for increasing animal-based products have not been justified by significant evidence, so healthcare professionals are beginning to question reasoning for promoting a diet with a negative environmental impact, especially when climate change is a rapidly growing threat. The ongoing debate has some arguing that sustainability and nutrition are not related, while others maintain they are inextricably linked.
✓ Added Sugar & Alcohol Recommendations
This year, the Scientific Report from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee made recommendations to decrease added sugar and alcohol intake in the latest guidelines. The report recommended a decrease from 10% to 6% of daily calories from added sugar. They also recommend lowering the upper daily limit of alcohol for men from two drinks to one; the current recommendation for men is from 1990, and severely outdated.
The USDA acknowledged that these changes were not made, claiming that the research was not substantial enough to make such a change between the 2015 and 2020 recommendations. They maintain the added sugar recommendation and emphasize how they have “underscored” the importance of limiting added sugar intake. Generally, the same reasoning surrounded the reasoning for not changing the alcohol limit for men as well. Some have suggested that these recommendations may not have been lowered for fear of people viewing them as too low and not making any attempt to follow them, viewing them as unattainable.
✓ Basic Guidelines for Healthy Eating
Unsurprisingly, the overall principles of creating a health diet did not change significantly in the latest edition of the guidelines. The USDA still emphasizes the importance of vegetables of all types, fruits, whole grains, fat-free/low-fat dairy products, protein foods, and oils. The dietary components to limit continue to be added sugars, saturated fats, sodium, and alcohol.
However, the USDA created a new call to action to implore Americans to “Make Every Bite Count!” through four steps:
- 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 food and beverages, and stay within calorie limits
- Limit food and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fats, and limit alcoholic beverages.
This edition of the DGA looks to educate Americans on how to optimize the foods and beverages they consume to create the healthiest diet for their lifestyle. It avoids labeling foods as good or bad; rather, they work to help Americans understand, for example, the difference between nutrient- and calorie-dense foods, and provide examples and simple swaps based on dietary trends.
Using Healthie with your Nutrition Clients
As a wellness professional, facilitating change takes more than one consultation. Building a rapport is crucial, so that patients trust you and your process, to create lasting outcomes. Engaging with and monitoring your patients as you work together lets you give them the feedback and support they need to stay motivated and make changes. You’ll find that as you engage with patients, retention is improved, and a real trusting relationship can be established.
Having someone monitoring their progress allows them to stay focused. Using patient engagement tools to review patient food journal entries, give real-time meal suggestions, answer questions, and more instills a sense of accountability. Additionally, health goals are achieved when patients can make consistent habit-forming changes. Making a collaborative effort towards goal setting based on nutrient guidelines and requirements shows your patients that you care about their progress and future success.
Healthie’s practice management and telehealth software was built with dietitians, nutritionists, and health coaches in mind. With a host of back-office management features, as well as a comprehensive client engagement suite, you can easily run a business while working with your clients to achieve healthy eating habits and lifestyle practices.
- Food journaling
- Macronutrient tracking
- Lifestyle & activity tracking
- Client goal setting
- Secure client messenger
- Convenient mobile app
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