It’s time to dust off the nation’s advice for healthy eating.

Every five years, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) update the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The Guidelines are used to set standards for healthy school lunches, home-delivered meals for seniors, and nutrition education programs, and to inform the advice given by many health professionals.

A distinguished panel of experts has examined the science that will be used to create the 2020–2025 Guidelines. In July, the panel issued its Scientific Report.

dietary guidelines for Americans report
A new scientific report stuck to the science. So should the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines.

When that advisory committee was appointed, some observers were worried about the number of members who had ties to the food industry.

But, in the end, they stuck to the science. The report largely aligns with recommendations that Nutrition Action and its publisher, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, have made for years. Among the highlights:

  • Eat a healthy dietary pattern. That means a diet higher in vegetables, fruits, nuts, unsaturated oils, legumes, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and seafood...and lower in red and processed meats, refined grains, and added sugars. That eating pattern is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, excess weight, hip fractures, and premature death.
  • Cut saturated fat and cholesterol. Keep both as low as possible within a healthy dietary pattern. Limit saturated fat to less than 10 percent of calories—that’s 20 grams a day for a 2,000-calorie diet—by replacing some sat fat with unsaturated fat from nuts, seeds, oils, and seafood.
  • Slash added sugars. Less than 6 percent of our calories should come from added sugars (down from 10 percent in the prior Guidelines). That’s just 30 grams, or 7 teaspoons, a day...less than the 39 grams in a single can of Coke or the 50-gram current Daily Value.
  • Limit alcohol. That means no more than one drink a day for all adults (prior Guidelines recommended no more than two drinks a day for men).

The panel didn’t look at salt. Instead, the new Guidelines will rely on a solid 2019 National Academy of Medicine report that advised adults to limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams a day.

All in all, the report is a remarkably clear upholding of strong advice on diet and health. But we can’t let our guard down just yet.

The report is now at the USDA and HHS, an opaque stage in the process from which parts of the final Guidelines have emerged diluted or industry-friendly in years past. We’ll be pushing to make sure they stick to the science.

Peter G. Lurie, MD, MPH
President, Center for Science in the Public Interest