Did you know that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) are updated every five years?
This means the most recent update was in 2020 but most of us didn’t notice given, well, the pandemic thingy.
All jokes aside, these guidelines are put out by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The HHS and USDA’s role is to provide science-based recommendations on what to eat and drink in order to promote health, meet nutrient needs, and to reduce the risk of chronic disease. The DGA provides a framework and a benchmark for fit pros, nutrition practitioners, health workers, and policymakers to help individuals consume a nutritionally adequate and healthy diet. The guidelines also impact federal program dietary planning for the National School Lunch Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).
The most recent DGA’s are in effect from 2020-2025.
DGAs for athletes and fit pros
The DGA’s and research done around creating them indicate that thee average American scores 59 out of 100 in the Healthy Eating Index (HEI). This may or may not be surprising to read. Regardless, Americans in general have plenty of room to improve that score. We as fit pro’s can coach them to do so and refer them to credentialed professionals when needed.
DGAs for moms and children
For the first time, DGAs include infants and toddlers from birth to 24 months of age and pregnant and lactating women. The DGA’s recommend encouraging the introduction of potential allergens such as eggs, cow milk, and peanuts to infants at about 6 months of age. Another recommendation for children under the age of two years is not to consume any foods containing added salt or sugar. The reasoning is that exposure to such foods so early in life tend to increase their preference for them later in life or create an affinity for it. This could potentially contribute to overweight and obesity later on in life or even in early childhood.
DGAs and the Standard American Diet (SAD)
Unfortunately, most Americans consume what is often referred to as “The Standard American Diet (SAD).” This means processed foods rich in salt, sugar, unhealthy fats, that are calorie dense over more nutritious choices such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, seeds, lean meat, and other nutrient dense food choices.
DGAs and Culture
The new DGA’s also take culture into consideration and encourage ‘trades’ and ‘swaps.’ Should a person be eating SAD, the DGA’s encourage swapping foods such as conventional ice cream with home made avocado ice cream or banana ice cream. Should the person eat foods that have originated from countries other than America or are classified differently, the DGA’s also provide substitutions for those. The key is not necessarily what culture the food is from. Processed foods that are calorie dense abound and the DGA’s encourage making healthy substitutions to nutrient-dense options.
DGA’s and Sugar
There was much debate on whether or not to lower the recommended amount of daily sugar intake or not in the most recent set of DGA’s. The 2020-2025 DGA’s didn’t do it. The HHS and USDA considered and reviewed the Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and public comment and after the review and considerations, left the recommendation that added sugar remain less than 10% of an individual’s daily caloric intake. They were considering lowering it to 6%. The main culprit or top source of added sugar in the American Diet is attributed to sugar-sweetened beverages.
There are several documented consequences to over consumption of sugar. Research shows that sugar-sweetened beverages increase the risk for fatty liver disease and high blood pressure (HBP). The other risk of consuming too much added sugar is that it contributes to obesity thereby also increasing the risk of heart disease. Sugar also impacts insulin responses in the human body and diabetes.
DGA’s and saturated fat:
The recommendation is to limit saturated fat to less than 10 percent of daily caloric intake per day starting at 2 years of age.
DGA’s and sodium:
The recommendation is to limit sodium to less then 2,300 mg per day starting 2 years of age (that’s approximately one teaspoon of salt).
DGA’s and alcohol:
The recommendation is to limit alcoholic beverages to 1 drink or less per day for women and 2 drinks per day or less for men.
One drink is defined as 12 fluid ounces of beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine, or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof liquor like vodka or rum.
DGA’s in action
Along with the release of the 2020-2025 DGA’s came the “Make Every Bite Count” Campaign. This is a campaign includes four calls to action:
1) Follow a healthy dietary way of eating at every life stage.
2) Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium while also limiting alcoholic beverages.
3) Enjoy and customize nutrient-dense food and beverage choices to reflect cultural traditions, personal preferences, and financial situations (budget).
4) Focus on meeting the needs of the major food groups with nutrient-dense foods and beverages and stay within daily caloric intake limits.
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans could be utilized by fit pro’s as an amazing resource to start conversations off about healthy eating with clients or serve as a guide to answer their questions regarding nutrition. They can be especially beneficial when working with children or clients with children under 2 years of age since this is an area that is really emphasized by the DGA’s.
Essentially, establishing healthy eating habits early in life increases the likelihood of maintaining them into later years. This, in turn, lowers risk of developing obesity and other related illnesses. However, it’s good to start eating more nutrient-dense foods no matter what age or stage of life.
Consider this, if the research indicates that the majority of Americans are not making the healthiest food choices on a regular basis, it’s important to address it with clients. Not only can their overall health improve by eating nutrient-dense foods on a regular basis, so can their athletic performance during sessions and/or in whatever activities they participate in.