The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Better Late Than Never!

Posted in
Eat better

Thursday, Jan 21, 2016

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services first published the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) in 1985. Since that time, the DGAs have been updated every 5 years. The purpose of the DGA is to help all people ages 2 years and older and their families to make healthful choices with regard to dietary intake and regular physical activity. The overarching goal of DGA is maintaining good health and reducing the risk of chronic disease throughout all stages of the lifespan. Before we continue any further, it is important to emphasize that the DGAs are primarily evidence-based (i.e., published research studies) and not opinion-based (i.e., most diet books).  The 2015-2020 DGA1 were released on January 7, 2016, hence the title of this article! The key recommendations are shown below:

Consume a healthy eating pattern that accounts for all foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level.

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
  • 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 2300 milligrams 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.

Additional key recommendations are as follows:

  • Americans of all ages should meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans*** to help promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease
  • Individuals should aim to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight
  • Individuals should strive to consume more nutrient-dense foods and beverages. A nutrient-dense food or beverage is one that provides vitamins, minerals and other substances that contribute to adequate nutrient intakes, with little or no solid fats and added sugars, refined starches, and sodium. All vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans and peas, unsalted nuts and seeds, fat-free and low-fat dairy, and lean meats and poultry are nutrient-dense foods provided that they are prepared with little or no added solid fats, sugars, and sodium. 
  • At the same time, individuals should shift away from food and beverage choices that are less nutrient-dense

So, there is overwhelming agreement at this point that Americans consume too much saturated and trans fat, added sugars, and sodium and that most individuals would do well to reduce their intake of these substances. On the other hand, we are not consuming enough unrefined plant-based foods or animal-based foods that are low in saturated fat. To magnify this problem, only about 20% of American adults meet the current Guidelines for Physical Activity (see below).

Finally, a noticeable difference between the 2015-2020 DGA and the 2010 DGA is that dietary cholesterol is no longer mentioned in the former. Scientists now agree that dietary cholesterol has very little to no impact on blood cholesterol levels. While that may sound counterintuitive, we’ve actually known this for about two decades! Dietary saturated fat and trans fat consumption have a much greater impact on blood cholesterol levels than the amount of cholesterol that we consume. So yes, eggs are OK as long as you don’t fry them in butter or bacon grease!

To learn more about nutrition, physical activity, healthy eating and risk of chronic disease, take our Nutrition for Health and Fitness, Sports Nutrition, Weight Loss Strategies, and/or Personal Training Education courses. You need not be a health and fitness professional to take these courses; the general public is always welcome to attend!

*examples of added sugar are non-diet soft drinks, table sugar, imitation fruit beverages, sports drinks, energy drinks, cookies, candy, pastry, and syrup

**one alcoholic drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor

***The Physical Activity Guidelines for healthy American adults between the ages of 18-65 state that a minimum of 150 minutes each week be spent in moderate intensity aerobic activity, and that resistance exercise should be performed at least 2 days per week. Children between the ages of 6-17 should be physically active for at least 60 minutes each day including aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening activities.