New Dietary Guidelines Encourage Healthy Eating to Prevent Chronic Diseases

January 18, 2016

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture jointly released the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs). Based on current scientific understanding about healthy eating choices and health outcomes, the guidelines are designed to aid Americans in making food choices that will help them avoid or reduce obesity and prevent chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. 

Global health and community and family medicine professor Mary Story was among the prestigious researchers on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The committee’s recommendations, along with public and federal agency comments, informed the development of the DGAs.

In addition to helping individuals and families make healthy dietary choices, the DGAs serve as a trusted, evidence-based resource for health professionals, policy makers, businesses, schools, community groups, media, the food industry, and government agencies. 

“Protecting the health of the American public includes empowering them with the tools they need to make healthy choices in their daily lives,” said Secretary Burwell. “By focusing on small shifts in what we eat and drink, eating healthy becomes more manageable.”

New Guidelines Focus on Healthy Eating Patterns across the Lifespan

The new DGAs promote healthy eating patterns as a whole to bring about sustainable improvements in individual and population health. The overarching guidelines are as follows:

  • Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan
  • Focus on variety, nutrient-dense foods and amount
  • Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, and reduce sodium intake
  • Shift to healthier beverage choices
  • Support healthy eating patterns for all

Specifically, Americans are encouraged to eat:  

  • A variety of vegetables, fruits and protein-rich foods
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Healthy oils, including those from plants, nuts, seeds, seafood, olives and avocados

The recommendations also set specific limits on sugars and saturated fats (less than 10 percent of calories per day) and sodium (less than 2,300 milligrams per day).

The DGAs include updated guidance on topics such as added sugars, sodium and cholesterol and new information on caffeine. This edition also reaffirms recommendations from the past several editions about the essential building blocks of a healthy lifestyle.

Duke Global Health Professor Highlights Key Changes

According to global health professor Mary Story, a member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a few key recommendations set the 2015-2020 DGAs apart from previous editions, including:

  • Focus on overal healthy dietary patterns
  • Specificity of the guidelines on added sugars 
  • Emphasis on eating more healthy fats and replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats
  • Recommendation for adolescent and adult males to consume less meat

“A healthy diet not only improves overall health and well-being, but it can also have a major positive impact on serious, diet-related chronic diseases,” Story said. “And current scientific evidence—which the DGAs are based on—shows clearly that diets high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in saturated fats, sodium and added sugar, promote the best health outcomes.” 

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A healthy diet not only improves overall health and well-being, but it can also have a major positive impact on serious, diet-related chronic diseases.

Mary Story, global health and community and family medicine professor

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