Every five years, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) are tasked with examining the current research on nutrition and developing a set of recommendations known as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The recommendations in the guidelines have far-reaching impacts. They inform the development of the nutrition education curricula that we use in our classes, influence nutrition policy such as the requirements for school meals, and provide health professionals with a summary of the most current scientific evidence on healthy eating.
The development of the guidelines is a lengthy process that starts with the formation of a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The members of the committee are nationally recognized nutrition and medical professionals. The committee is tasked with reviewing the current body of nutrition research and developing an advisory report. After this report is released, there is an open comment period where the public can provide written or oral comments about the recommendations in the advisory report. Based on both the report and the public comments, staff at USDA and HHS write the guidelines.
Last Thursday, the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans was released. There is usually a lot of media coverage and buzz surrounding the release of the guidelines, so you may start to get questions from your class participants about what they hear. I encourage you to take a closer look at the guidelines so you are prepared for those questions.
When you look at the guidelines, one change you might notice is a shift of focus from food groups and nutrients to eating patterns. The advisory committee recognized that people do not eat in food groups and single nutrients, and also found a growing body of research examining the relationship between eating patterns and health. Also emphasized more clearly in the latest guidelines are the changes Americans will need to make to move from what they are currently eating to adopting eating patterns that meet the guidelines.
Here are the five overarching guidelines:
- Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan.
- Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount.
- Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake.
- Shift to healthier food and beverage choices.
- Support healthy eating patterns for all.