Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the federal government’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines. The goal of the Dietary Guidelines, which are updated every five years, is to provide recommendations about the components of a healthy and nutritionally adequate diet in order to help promote health and reduce the prevalence of chronic disease across America. The Dietary Guidelines are required to be published pursuant to the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act, which states that every 5 years, HHS and USDA must jointly publish a report containing nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public. The law further requires that the Dietary Guidelines be based on the preponderance of current scientific and medical knowledge. A link to the 2015 Guidelines can be found here.

Relative to previous iterations, the 2015 Guidelines focus more on understanding the importance of healthy eating patterns as a whole, and how foods and beverages act may synergistically to affect health. By comparison, previous editions of the Guidelines focused primarily on specific, individual dietary components, such as foods, food groups, and nutrients. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines also expand upon the 2010 edition’s focus on weight management to address the prevention of a broader range of diet-related chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.

The 2015 Guidelines recommend that individuals consume nutrient-dense foods and beverages, such as a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, and nuts and seeds. The Guidelines also draw important distinctions about the consumption of fats from different sources, in contrast with earlier versions of the Guidelines, which had encouraged individuals to limit consumption of all types of fat. The updated Guidelines recommend that consumers avoid trans fats and limit their intake of saturated fats, replacing them with unsaturated fats that are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. In particular, the Guidelines recognize that “oils are part of healthy eating patterns,” and emphasize the role of oils as part of a healthy diet because they are the major source of essential fatty acids and vitamin E. Commonly consumed oils extracted from plants include canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, and sunflower oils. Oils also are naturally present in nuts, seeds, seafood, olives, and avocados. 

The Guidelines are designed primarily for health professionals to use in helping individuals and families consume a healthy, nutritionally adequate diet. In addition, the Guidelines are intended to help develop government food, nutrition, and health policies and programs, such as the nutrition education components of HHS and USDA food programs. State and local governments and the food industry also may utilize the Guidelines to focus research and development efforts related to dietary friendly food products. 

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines and Key Recommendations are set forth below.    

2015 Dietary Guidelines

  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. 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.

Key Recommendations

A healthy eating pattern includes:

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other.
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits.
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains.
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages.
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products. Further, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend that consumption of seafood should be increased by incorporating seafood (8 oz. weekly) in meals twice per week in place of meat, poultry, or eggs.
  • Oils

A healthy eating pattern limits:

  • Saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.

Quantitative recommendations:

  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars.
  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats.
  • Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium.
  • If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men—and only by adults of legal drinking age.