At the end of 2020, USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025, which is released every five years to offer science-based guidance to promote healthy eating, reduce risk of chronic illness, and prevent disease.
However, many were surprised that more stringent recommendations on sugar intake and alcohol were not included. In July, a 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee released a report recommending sugar be cut back to 6% of total calories and a maximum limit of alcoholic beverages for men to just one drink per day.
USDA and HHS did not take that advice.
A USDA spokesperson reiterated what was included in the agency’s written response to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study on sugar and alcoholic beverages, explaining the guidelines include part, but not all, of the committee’s advice. “The dietary guidelines emphasizes the importance of limiting intakes of added sugars and alcoholic beverages, but does not include the changes to quantitative limits recommended by the committee,” the statement said. “The evidence that the committee reviewed supports the need to continue to limit intakes of added sugars and alcoholic beverages to promote health and prevent disease. However, there was not a preponderance of evidence in the committee’s review of studies since the 2015–2020 edition to substantiate changes to the quantitative limits for either added sugars or alcohol.”
According to the spokesperson, USDA and HHS encourage more research on the relationship between added sugars and alcoholic beverages and health, and will continue to monitor the evidence on these topics.
This decision has caused some controversy among nutrition experts. Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, chair of the department of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told the Wall Street Journal that this was a “lost opportunity for a stronger public health message.”
There are quantitative recommendations for sugar, saturated fat, sodium and alcohol included in the 2020-2025 guidelines, just not at the level that some expected. These have not changed from the previous guidelines and recommend no more than 10% of calories from added sugars, no more than 10% of calories from saturated fat, no more than 2,300 mg of sodium daily, and no more than two alcoholic beverages daily for men and no more than one daily for women.
Additional Dietary Guidance by Age Group
Melissa Morris, a sports nutritionist, says that the new guidelines have added more details about nutrition across the lifespan and have specific recommendations for different stages of life, such as recommendations for infants and toddlers, children and adolescents, adults, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and older adults—the first time the report has ever included these breakdowns.
New additions to the guidelines include specific needs of infants and toddlers aged 0 to 24 months, including the recommended length of time to breastfeed exclusively (minimum of 6 months), when to introduce solids and which solids to introduce, and the recommendation to introduce peanut-containing foods to infants at high risk for peanut allergy between four and six months of age.
Additionally, the guidelines now recommend the nutrients and foods that women should eat during pregnancy and lactation to meet the nutrient needs of both themselves and their baby.
“The key guidelines and recommendations are vague enough that individuals can implement easy and healthy changes to their diet, but they are also specific enough for measurable goals,” Morris tells Food Quality & Safety. “I like the addition of nutrition across the life cycle with specific recommendations for each age group.”