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New Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Living

Although this may not be the most fascinating thing you read today, it’s essential for good health.

It’s well-known that dietary intake affects our health. Sixty percent of adults have one or more diet-related chronic diseases: heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. However, it’s possible to prevent and manage these conditions with the right nutrition.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) is issued every 5 years with the intent to encourage Americans to eat well.

Based on a rigorous review of scientific literature, the DGA translates nutrition data into food recommendations. It also forms the basis for federal nutrition policy.

Since nutritional needs vary over our lifespans, the most recent guidelines provide recommendations for all life stages.

The four major guidelines of the DGA are:

  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern at every stage of life.
  2. Customize and enjoy nutrient-rich foods and beverages that reflect your personal preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations.
  3. Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-rich foods and beverages while staying within calorie limits.
  4. Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. Limit alcoholic beverages.

The six core food elements include:

  1. Veggies – all types. Dark green, red, orange; also legumes: beans, peas, lentils; starchy and non-starchy veggies.
  2. Fruits – especially whole fruit.
  3. Grains – at least half of your daily starch intake should consist of whole grains.
  4. Dairy – fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, or lactose-free versions of them. For plant-based calcium, choose fortified soy alternatives.
  5. Protein – lean meats, poultry, and eggs; seafood; beans, peas, and lentils; nuts, seeds, and soy products.
  6. Oils – vegetable oils and oils found in foods such as fatty fish and nuts.

The DGA recommends these six groups make up 85% of our food intake. The remaining 15% can be from foods and beverages higher in added sugar, saturated fats, and sodium — the fun foods we all enjoy!

Are the DGA Dietary Guidelines making Americans unhealthy?

It’s been argued that over the past 40 years Americans have become heavier and less healthy.

The sad truth is, consuming the DGA’s recommended dietary pattern is not the norm.

The Healthy Eating Index (HEI) is a score calculated from national food surveys. It measures how closely our food and beverage choices align with the DGA. A top score is 100, but our nation’s average score is only 59. On a brighter note, older adults (over age 60) have a slightly better diet quality with an average score of 63.

Even as the science linking food and health has grown stronger, our Healthy Eating Index has shown no improvement.

The three key l dietary principles helping us decide what to eat and drink include:

  1. Meeting nutritional needs primarily from nutrient-rich foods and beverages.
  2. Choosing a variety of options from each food group.
  3. Paying attention to portion size.

The DGA aligns with the top three rated eating plans I’ve focused on recently: Mediterranean, DASH, and Flexitarian.

Following the DGA, Mediterranean, DASH, or Flexitarian diets can improve our Healthy Eating Index scores. It’s never too late — or too early.

What is one thing you will do to improve your score?



Jennifer “Neily” Neily, MS, RDN, FAND

Jennifer “Neily” Neily, MS, RDN, FAND. Award-winning Dallas-based registered dietitian nutritionist and Wellcoach® certified health coach, Jennifer Neily has a virtual coaching practice – Through her whole-person comprehensive one-on-one approach she helps women build a healthier relationship with food and gain trust and confidence in themselves to ultimately have more freedom and energy to enjoy life. For more info visit:

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