Priority Policy

Dietary Guidelines

Expert recommendations for healthy eating that reflect the latest nutrition science

Every five years, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) jointly publish the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a series of recommendations reflecting the latest nutrition science for how Americans ages 2 and older can maintain a healthy diet. The latest Dietary Guidelines, covering 2015-2020, emphasize combining nutrient-dense foods in the same meal and limiting saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium. The next iteration of the Dietary Guidelines, which will cover 2020-2025, will for the first time include standards for pregnant women, infants, and toddlers. In February 2019, USDA and HHS announced the members of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

Several federal nutrition assistance programs are required by law to have nutrition standards that meet the Dietary Guidelines; these include CACFP, the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs and WIC. The healthy eating patterns recommended in the Dietary Guidelines can help prevent chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes.


The following recommendations regarding dietary guidelines come from State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, 2018 produced by Trust for America’s Health and RWJF.

• The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services  in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ensure that the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans reflect the latest and best nutrition science, include recommendations for children ages 2 and under, are developed in a transparent manner, and are issued on time.

• Restaurants should incorporate more fruits and vegetables into menus and make healthy beverages and sides the default option in all meals.

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WHAT IS A “healthy eating pattern”?

The current Dietary Guidelines focus on establishing a “healthy eating pattern” that accounts for all foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level. According to USDA, a healthy eating pattern consists of whole fruits, a variety of vegetables, grains (mostly consisting of whole grains), fat-free or low-fat dairy, and an array of foods rich in protein such as seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, and legumes.

Dietary Standards for pregnant women, infants, and toddlers

In advance of the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines, which are expected to include the first-ever standards for pregnant women, infants, and toddlers, Healthy Eating Research convened an expert panel in 2016 to evaluate the latest research covering healthy eating habits and infant nutrition during the first 1,000 days of life. The panel recommended breastfeeding from birth until 6 months old and gradually introducing nutrient-rich foods through responsive feeding techniques to establish lifelong healthy eating patterns.

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Fast Facts

6 in 10

Six in 10 youth (63%) and 5 in 10 adults (49%) drank a sugar-sweetened beverage on a given day.

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The Dietary Guidelines are updated every five years.

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1 in 4

Federal nutrition programs that are required to meet the Dietary Guidelines–such as CACFP, the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs and WIC–serve one in four Americans.

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Originally posted in August 2018.