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New Federal Dietary Guidelines Highlight Importance of Nutrition

January 12, 2021

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services recently released new dietary guidelines for 2020 through 2025, highlighting the key role nutrition plays in overall health at every age.

Updated every five years, the guidelines serve as an important reference point for policymakers and health care professionals. The newly released guidelines include a call to action to “make every bite count” and stress the importance of creating healthy eating patterns.

“Each stage of life is distinct and has unique needs that affect health and disease risk,” the report notes. “Early food preferences influence food and beverage choices later. And the science has evolved to focus on the importance of a healthy dietary pattern over time.”

There are four key guidelines in the report:

  • Follow a healthy dietary pattern at every age
  • Individuals should customize their diet with nutrient-dense food and drink choices that reflect their preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations
  • Focus on nutrient-dense foods and beverages that stay within calorie limits, such as vegetables, whole fruits, grains, dairy, protein-rich foods, and oils
  • Limit food and drinks that are higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages

The guidelines are not a rigid set of rules, but provide an overall roadmap to healthy nutrition and emphasize that it is “never too late to start and maintain a healthy dietary pattern.” The core nutritional recommendations for added sugars, sodium, and alcohol have remained unchanged from the previous report. The latest report recommends:

  • Less than 10 percent of calories per day should come from added sugars, starting at age two. It’s also recommended infants and toddlers should avoid foods with added sugars
  • Less than 10 percent of calories per day should come from saturated fat starting at age two
  • Sodium intake should be less than 2,300 milligrams per day and even less for children younger than age 14
  • Adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink, or to drink in moderation, limiting intake to two drinks or less in a day for men and one drink or less in a day for women

The new guidelines encourage health professionals to prioritize nutrition education with patients, increasing the focus on vegetables and other nutrient-dense foods over other refined options. The guidelines also recommend limiting soda, sports drinks, sweetened coffees, and teas in favor of chilled, plain water or sparkling water with a squeeze of fruit for flavor.

HAP supports efforts to increase access to healthy foods for residents across the commonwealth and works with the state’s hospitals and health systems to ensure patients have access to healthy options.

For more information, contact Beth Murray, HAP’s readmissions project manager.