2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines: Answers to Your Questions

2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines: Answers to Your Questions

What are "eating patterns" and why does the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines focus on them?

An eating pattern refers to the combination of all of the foods and beverages a person eats and drinks regularly over time. A large body of science now shows that healthy eating patterns and regular physical activity can help people achieve and maintain good health and reduce the risk of chronic disease throughout life.

While the core parts of healthy eating patterns in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines are the same as those from previous Dietary Guidelines (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat and fat-free dairy, and protein foods — all with little to no added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium), the emphasis of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines is on the importance of the totality of what you eat and drink as a whole package. Food groups and nutrients are not eaten as individual components — they’re eaten in combination with each other over time. And together those individual parts of an eating pattern can act synergistically and have potentially cumulative effects on health. In other words, an eating pattern is more than the sum of its parts.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines embodies the idea that a healthy eating pattern is not a rigid plan. Rather, it can be adapted to include foods people enjoy that meet their personal preferences and fit within their budget. In essence, a personalized healthy eating pattern could be considered the way or style in which a person makes healthy choices they can maintain over time. For that reason, MyPlate uses “healthy eating style” to speak to consumers when referring to “healthy eating patterns” that are highlighted in the Dietary Guidelines. All of the food and beverage choices you make matter. Start with small changes to make healthier choices you can enjoy and create your own healthy eating style! Find your healthy eating style with MyPlate, MyWins.

What is the recommendation for added sugars?

According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, we should limit our total daily consumption of added sugars to less than 10% of calories per day. This recommendation is to help achieve a healthy eating style. After eating foods from all food groups to meet nutrient needs, there is limited room for calories from added sugars. When added sugars in foods and beverages exceed 10% of calories, it may be difficult to achieve a healthy eating style that meets personal calorie limits.

A large body of science shows that eating styles with less added sugars are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in adults, and some evidence indicates that these styles are also associated with reduced risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer in adults.

Added sugars, such as syrups and other caloric sweeteners, are used as a sweetener in many food products. Learn more about different types and common sources of added sugars and ways to limit your intake.

Does the Dietary Guidelines promote a low-fat diet?

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines does not encourage a low-fat diet (meaning low in total fats) — in fact its healthy eating style examples can contain up to 35% of total calories per day from fat.  

Consistent with the previous edition of the Dietary Guidelines, the 2015-2020 edition encourages eating styles that emphasize unsaturated fats and are low in saturated fat. Specifically, the Dietary Guidelines recommends keeping saturated fat consumption to less than 10% of calories per day. This recommendation is based on scientific evidence that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fats is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. However, it is important to note that replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates does not reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Learn more about the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats and common sources of each.

What is the sodium recommendation?

For most people ages 14 years and older, sodium intake should not exceed 2,300 mg/day. Intake below this level is recommended for children younger than 14 years old and people who have prehypertension or hypertension (i.e., high blood pressure).

The relationship between sodium intake and blood pressure is well-documented. As one goes up, so does the other. Since most people typically consume too much sodium, most of us need to reduce our intake. Sodium is found in many of the foods we commonly eat. Learn more about sources of sodium and ways to limit your intake.

Is caffeine okay to include in my day?

Much of the available scientific studies on caffeine focuses on coffee intake, thus the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines provides guidance that centers around coffee. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, moderate coffee consumption — up to three to five 8-oz cups/day or providing up to 400 mg/day of caffeine — can be incorporated into healthy eating styles since it is not associated with an increased risk of major chronic diseases (e.g., cancer) or premature death, especially from cardiovascular disease.

However, the Dietary Guidelines notes that people who currently do not consume caffeinated coffee or other caffeinated beverages are not encouraged to start. The Dietary Guidelines also includes an important note that some coffee or other caffeinated beverages may include calories from added sugars and/or saturated fat (such as cream, whole or 2% milk, and creamer), both of which should be limited.

Do I still need to watch my cholesterol intake?

While adequate evidence is not available for a quantitative limit for dietary cholesterol in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, cholesterol is still important to consider when building a healthy eating style. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines states that people should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible.

In general, foods that are higher in dietary cholesterol, such as fatty meats and high-fat dairy products, are also higher in saturated fats (which should be limited to 10% of total calories per day). The primary healthy eating style described in the Dietary Guidelines is limited in saturated fats, and thus, dietary cholesterol (about 100-300 mg across the various calorie levels).