The federal government has released its 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, which it says focuses on the "big picture" with recommendations to help Americans make choices that add up to an overall healthy eating pattern.

Why it matters

Healthier eating is badly needed in this country. The report put together by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services notes that over the past century, deficiencies of essential nutrients have dramatically decreased, while at the same time, rates of chronic diseases—many of which are related to poor quality diet and physical inactivity—have increased. About half of all American adults have one or more preventable, diet-related chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and overweight and obesity.

Sugar emerged as a major health hazard in the latest guidelines, while meat – despite several recent studies linking meat consumption to cancer – did not. Americans are advised to limit sugar to 10 percent or less of their total daily calories. This does not include the sugar found naturally in fruit which, along with vegetables and whole grains, should play a prominent role in daily diets.

A Dietary Guidelines advisory panel recommended that the guidelines include eating less red and processed meats. After a challenge by  the meat industry, that advice failed to make its way into the final draft.

The Guidelines

  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. All food and beverage choices matter. Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  2. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.
  3. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake. Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.
  4. Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across and within all food groups in place of less healthy choices. Consider cultural and personal preferences to make these shifts easier to accomplish and maintain.
  5. Support healthy eating patterns for all. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple settings nationwide, from home to school to work to communities.

Click here for more information on the guidelines.