November 30, 2021

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How You Should Eat, According to USDA 2020 Dietary Guidelines

Photo: Craevschii Family (Shutterstock)

The U.S. government releases dietary guidelines every five years, and the 2020 edition just came out yesterday. There aren’t any huge changes, but babies and toddlers are included for the first time, and once again we are being reminded that we pretty much all eat too much sugar.

The dietary guidelines form the basis for what is included in federal programs like school lunches, but few people actually abide by them. The government reports that the average American’s diet only aligns about 59% with the guidelines. And while the guidelines are always controversial in one way or another, we would all probably be at least a little better off if we ate more like how they say we should.

There’s no pyramid or plate graphic to go along with the current edition, just advice like the following “four overarching guidelines”:

  • 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.
  • Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages.

As for specifics: added sugars and saturated fats are each limited to 10% of calories starting at age 2; sodium should be less than 2,300 milligrams per day (less if you’re under age 14), and the maximum number of drinks per day is one for women and two for men. That’s per day, not an average for the week.

Nutrient-dense foods, according to the USDA, include “Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans, peas, and lentils, unsalted nuts and seeds, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and lean meats and poultry” when cooked without too much extra sugars, fats, or sodium.

There are recommendations for people who are pregnant or lactating, and for older adults. This set of guidelines is also the first to include babies and toddlers, and we reported on the recommendations for little ones as they were being discussed earlier this year.



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