The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are the foundation of the national nutrition policy for the United States. They are designed to help Americans make food choices that promote health and reduce the risk of disease. The guidelines are published jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The first set of guidelines was published as Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 1980. Since then, an advisory committee has been appointed to review and revise the guidelines every five years based on the latest research in nutrition and health.
The first half of the twentieth century was a period of enormous growth in nutrition knowledge. The primary goal of nutrition advice at this time was to help people select foods to meet their energy (calorie) needs and prevent diseases caused by nutritional deficiencies. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, many people had little money to buy food. They needed to know how to select an adequate diet with few resources. In response to this need, the USDA produced a set of meal plans that were affordable for families of various incomes. To this day, a food guide for low-income families, the Thrifty Food Plan, is issued regularly by the USDA and used to determine allotments in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called food stamps. In addition to meal plans, the USDA develops food guides as tools to help people select healthful diets. These food guides have changed over the years, based on the most recent research and information available.
During the 1970s, scientists began identifying links between people's eating habits and their risk for developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. They realized that a healthful diet was important not only to prevent diseases caused by nutrient deficiencies but also because it could play a role in decreasing the risk of developing chronic diseases. Because heart disease, diabetes, and cancer were, and still are, major causes of death and disability in the United States, there was a need to help Americans select diets that promoted good health. It later became evident that a healthful diet is one of the most affordable and effective modes of treatment and management of chronic diseases.
The first major step in federal dietary guidance was the 1977 publication of Dietary Goals for the United States by the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. The publication recommended an increased intake of carbohydrates and a reduced intake of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium (salt), and sugar. At the time, there was heated debate among nutrition scientists about these recommendations. Some nutritionists believed that not enough was known about effects of diet on health to make suggestions as specific as those given.
In 1980, the first edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans was released by the USDA and DHHS. The seven guidelines were:
The second edition, released in 1985, made a few changes, but kept most of the guidelines intact. Two exceptions were the weight guideline, which was changed to “maintain desirable weight” and the last guideline, in which “alcohol” was changed to “alcoholic beverages.”
Following publication of the second edition of the Dietary Guidelines, two influential reports concerning diet and health were issued. The Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health was published in 1988, and the National Research Council's report Diet and Health—Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk was published in 1989. These two reports supported the goal of the guidelines to promote eating habits to help people stay healthy. In 1990, the third edition of the guidelines took a more positive tone than previous editions, using phrases such as “choose a diet,” or “use … only in moderation,” rather than “avoid too much…” This was seen as a positive step by many nutrition educators.
The fourth edition was the first to include the Food Guide Pyramid, which had been introduced in 1992. It also was the first edition to address vegetarian diets and the recently introduced “Nutrition Facts” panel for food labels. The fifth edition, issued in 2000, expanded the number of guidelines to ten and organized them into three messages: “Aim for Fitness, Build a Healthy Base, and Choose Sensibly” (ABC).
With the sixth edition in 2005, a redesigned food pyramid called MyPyramid was introduced. MyPyramid was intended to help Americans become more aware of what they eat and their nutrient needs. It was designed to help people learn how to eat a healthy diet, live an active lifestyle, and maintain or gradually move in the direction of a healthy weight that would reduce the risk of weight-related diseases. Unlike earlier diet and nutrition guides, MyPyramid personalized dietary recommendations based on the individual's height, weight, age, gender, activity level, and weight goals. MyPyramid was not well received by many nutrition educators who felt the graphic was confusing and the advice so overwhelmingly detailed and specific that it would discourage the average person. MyPyramid was replaced in June 2011 with the simpler MyPlate graphic and guidelines.
Produced by the USDA and HHS, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans release was the eighth edition of the guidelines and was developed to provide guidance on how healthy eating patterns and regular physical activity can help people achieve and maintain good health and reduce risk of chronic disease throughout the lifespan. It provided examples of a number of healthy eating patterns, recognizing that people eat combinations of foods, or meals, rather than single foods in isolation.
Some of the guidelines from the 2015 directive include:
Individuals who are on special diets for health reasons should consult with their healthcare provider before adopting the MyPlate guidelines. In some cases, the amounts or food categories may need to be changed to meet special dietary needs.
Some foods, especially fruits and vegetables, can interact with prescription medications. It is important to check with a physician to learn what foods to avoid when taking medications.
Other than special dietary needs or avoiding drug interactions, no complications have been noted in following the MyPlate guidelines.
Many parents wonder if their children are getting proper nutrition. Following the MyPlate guidelines for each age group can alleviate those concerns. An additional concern is encouraging children to eat healthy meals rather than junk foods and empty calories. By presenting fruits and vegetables as snacks and offering well-balanced meals, parents can help children make better food choices.
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Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 120 S. Riverside Plaza, Ste. 2190, Chicago, IL, 60606-6995, (312) 899-0040, (800) 877-1600, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.eatright.org .
U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC, 20250, (202) 720-2791, http://www.usda.gov .
Linda Benjamin Bobroff
Revised by Anne P. Nugent, PhD RNutr