Updated Dietary Guidelines Provide Framework for Healthy Eating at All Ages  

Julie Bitely

| 4 min read

Little child reaching for a strawberry
For the first time, U.S. dietary guidelines will include nutrition guidance specific to babies and toddlers, as well as pregnant and lactating women. The guidelines also encourage focusing on healthy nutritional choices at every life stage. Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services update the guidelines, which are used by health care professionals, policymakers and drive federal nutrition program standards. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, encourage Americans to “make every bite count” by “following a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage.” Here are key takeaways for how to put the new guidelines to use at every age to ward off diet-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain types of cancer. More than half of U.S. adults have one or more diet-related chronic diseases. 

Infants and toddlers:

  • For their first six months of life, infants should be fed human milk exclusively; when human milk is unavailable, iron-fortified infant formula is recommended. Supplemental vitamin D should be provided to breastfed and partially breastfed infants soon after birth.
  • Nutrient-dense complementary foods can be introduced at about six months of age, in addition to human breast milk or formula.
  • Children should not consume added sugars before age 2. Starting at age 2, the guidelines recommend no more than 10% of daily calories come from added sugars. Top sources for added sugars in children’s diets include sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit drinks, desserts and sweet snacks, candy and breakfast cereals and bars. 

After age 2:

The dietary recommendations for children and adults are made up of the same basic elements, with portions changing based on age and activity levels. Most of what we consume should come from these core groups:
  • Vegetables of all types – dark green, red and orange; beans, peas and lentils; starchy and other vegetables
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grain
  • Dairy, including fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese and/or lactose-free versions and fortified soy beverages and yogurt as alternatives
  • Protein foods, including lean meats, poultry and eggs; seafood, beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils, including vegetable oils and oils in food, such as nuts
It’s recommended that children and adults eat a wide variety of foods from each group and eat more of the foods at the top of the list, while limiting items lower on the list such as meats and oils. The guidelines also advise limiting foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat and sodium and limiting alcoholic beverages to one drink per day for women and two per day for men.  The new guidelines also specifically call out guidance for certain populations:
  • Children and Adolescents: The ages between two through 18 are formative in developing dietary patterns, making it incredibly important that parents and caretakers provide healthy foods and drinks and set an example so that healthy eating habits are formed to avoid health challenges later in life, according to the guidelines.
  • Pregnant and Lactating Women: The new guidelines address the need for pregnant and lactating women to get enough folate/folic acid, iron, iodine and vitamin D for a healthy pregnancy and postpartum period. They also provide guidance on foods to avoid or limit such as alcohol and caffeine. Guidelines also address the additional caloric needs pregnant and lactating women may have and how to add those calories in healthy ways.
  • Adults 60 and Older: Special considerations for older adults focus on protein, vitamin B12 and hydration. It’s important that older men and women get enough protein to prevent the loss of lean muscle mass. As we age, our ability to absorb vitamin B12 can decrease, sometimes due to medications, so some older adults might need to consider supplementation. The sensation of thirst also tends to decline with age, making it important that seniors pay special attention to their fluid intake. 
Find the full guidelines here and learn how to put the guidelines into practice in your life by checking out the USDA’s MyPlate website, which includes resources and recipes. Related:
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