Frequently Asked Questions About the Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Q. What is the Dietary Guidelines for Americans?

Published every five years for the general public as well as public health professionals, policy makers and program implementers, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides food-based recommendations for people aged two years and older. Each edition reflects the current body of nutrition science, with a focus on chronic disease prevention. The recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines serve as the foundation for vital nutrition policies and programs across the United States to help Americans make healthy food and beverage choices.

Q. What does the latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines mean for Americans?

We know that a lifetime of healthy eating helps prevent chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. The Dietary Guidelines are informed by a thoughtful, critical, and transparent review of the current body of scientific evidence on nutrition. The latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines focuses on these main takeaways for Americans:

  • Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan.
    • Eating patterns are the combination of all foods and drinks that a person consumes over time. A healthy eating pattern is adaptable to a person’s taste preferences, traditions, culture and budget.
  • Focus on variety, nutrient density and amount.
  • Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, and reduce sodium intake.
  • Shift to healthier food and beverage choices.
  • Support healthy eating patterns for all.

Check out the Top 10 Things You Need to Know about the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

In addition, check out from USDA for online resources and tools that can help inform consumers about healthy food choices. Also look for new resources on from HHS to help health professionals support their clients and patients in making healthy choices.

Q. What is a healthy eating pattern?

Eating patterns consist of all foods and drinks that a person consumes over time. Here are a few fast facts about healthy eating patterns:

  • Healthy eating patterns include a variety of nutritious foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, low-fat and fat-free dairy, lean meats and other protein foods, and oils.
  • Healthy eating patterns limit sodium, as well as calories from saturated fats, trans fats, and added sugars.
  • Healthy eating patterns are adaptable to a person’s taste preferences, traditions, culture and budget.
  • There is more than one type of healthy eating pattern — the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines includes several examples of healthy eating patterns.

Learn more about healthy eating patterns.

Q. How can I follow a healthy eating pattern?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the idea of changing what we eat. By focusing on small improvements, eating healthy becomes more manageable. With so many choices to make every single day about what to eat and drink, each choice is an opportunity to make a small, healthy change — like replacing refined- with whole-grain bread.

Here’s more food for thought — almost 9 in 10 Americans get less than the recommended amount of vegetables. Instead of a whole new way of eating, find new ways to incorporate more veggies to dishes you’re already making. Further, American adults consume about 50% more sodium than the Dietary Guidelines recommends. Use the Nutrition Facts label to check for sodium, especially in processed and prepared foods like pizza, pasta dishes, sauces and soups.

See more examples for making small shifts in food choices to help ensure that meals and snacks are healthy and delicious.

Q. What’s new in the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines?

The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines expands upon the 2010 edition by focusing on overall eating patterns. While previous editions focused primarily on specific, individual dietary components — such as foods, food groups, and nutrients — the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines reflects the latest body of nutrition science by taking a wider view. It emphasizes overall eating patterns, the combinations of all the foods and drinks that people consume every day. Additionally, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines maintains the weight management information from the 2010 edition and it expands upon the prevention of other diet-related chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers, which were discussed in previous editions.

This edition reaffirms guidance about the core building blocks of a healthy lifestyle that have remained consistent over the past several editions of the guidelines. Based on a review of the scientific evidence on nutrition, the 2015-2020 edition also includes updated guidance on topics like added sugars, sodium, and cholesterol and new information on caffeine. For example, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines is the first edition to recommend a quantitative limit to consume less than 10 percent of calories from added sugars in order to control overall calorie intake.

To learn more about the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, read the Executive Summary.

Q. How can I support others’ healthy eating choices?

Everyone has a role to play in encouraging easy, accessible, and affordable ways to support healthy choices at home, school, work, and in the community. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans includes several examples of strategies to support healthy choices.

  • At home, individuals and families can try out small changes to find what works for them, like adding more veggies to favorite dishes, planning meals and cooking at home, and incorporating physical activity into time with family or friends.
  • Schools can improve the selection of healthy food choices in cafeterias and vending machines, provide nutrition education programs and school gardens, increase school-based physical activity, and encourage parents and caregivers to promote healthy changes at home.
  • Workplaces can offer healthy food options in the cafeteria, vending machines, and at staff functions; provide health and wellness programs and nutrition counseling, and encourage walking or activity breaks.
  • Communities can increase access to affordable, healthy food choices through community gardens, farmers’ markets, shelters, and food banks and create walkable communities by developing and maintaining safe public spaces for physical activity.
  • Food retail outlets can inform consumers about making healthy changes and provide healthy food choices.

Learn more about how you can help support healthy choices.

Q. Why do we need the Dietary Guidelines?

The Dietary Guidelines is focused on disease prevention and is an investment in the health of all Americans. We know that a lifetime of healthy eating helps to prevent chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. The Dietary Guidelines provides a clear path for policy makers and health professionals to help Americans make healthy choices, informed by a thoughtful, critical, and transparent review of the scientific evidence on nutrition.

Advances in scientific understanding about the role of nutrition in health are incorporated into the Dietary Guidelines on a regular basis.

Q. Who develops the Dietary Guidelines for Americans?

The federal government — specifically the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) — develops each edition of the Dietary Guidelines. Revisions to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines were informed by the recommendations of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which was composed of prestigious researchers in the fields of nutrition, health, and medicine, and by consideration of public and federal agency comments.

Numerous scientists within the Departments from agencies such as HHS’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and Economic Research Service (ERS) consulted on and extensively reviewed the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines throughout its production. Additionally, external, independent peer reviewers ensured technical accuracy in the translation of the science into guidelines.

To learn more about the process for developing the Dietary Guidelines, read the Introduction or this fact sheet.

Q. How often is the Dietary Guidelines updated?

Every five years, HHS and USDA publish the Dietary Guidelines to reflect the latest scientific evidence on nutrition, food, and health. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines will be current until the release of the next edition in 2020.

To learn more about the process for developing the Dietary Guidelines, read the Introduction.