Helping Health Professionals Put the Dietary Guidelines Into Practice

By Richard D. Olson, MD, MPH, Director, Division of Prevention Science, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP)

DGA_Cover_screenshotHealth professionals are important stakeholders in health and nutrition and share our vested interest at ODPHP in protecting the health of all Americans. We know that healthy eating and physical activity are some of the most powerful tools we have to prevent chronic diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Through our work with our partners at USDA to develop the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we also know that typical eating patterns currently consumed by many in the United States do not align with the Dietary Guidelines and a concerted effort is needed to improve eating patterns, and subsequently, the health of our Nation. To that end, ODPHP developed a toolkit for health professionals to help share key messages from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines with patients and clients. The toolkit includes several resources that health professionals can download and use in their practices.

Talk To Your Patients and Clients About Healthy Eating Patterns

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines emphasizes the relationship between healthy eating patterns and health outcomes.

Healthy eating patterns:

  • Account for all foods and beverages that a person consumes over time
  • Help promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease
  • Include a variety of vegetables; fruits; grains; fat-free or low-fat dairy; protein foods like seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes, and nuts, seeds, and soy products; and oils
  • Limit saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars and sodium

A healthy eating pattern is not a rigid prescription, but rather, an adaptable framework in which individuals can enjoy foods that meet their personal, cultural, and traditional preferences and fit within their budget.

This latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines confirms much of what we already know about healthy food choices from previous editions.  What we now know is that healthy eating patterns fit together like a puzzle to meet nutritional needs and support health, and may be more predictive of overall health and disease risk than individual foods or nutrients.

Learn more about how to start conversations with your patients and clients about healthy eating patterns.

Help Patients and Clients Shift to Healthier Food and Beverage Choices

We recognize that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the idea of changing what we eat. This edition of the Dietary Guidelines focuses on small improvements, or shifts, to make healthy eating more manageable. With so many choices to make every single day about what to eat and drink, we want Americans to view each choice as an opportunity to make a small, healthy change — like replacing refined- with whole-grain bread. Consider the following:

  • Almost 9 in 10 Americans get less than the recommended amount of vegetables. Instead of a whole new way of eating, we want people to find new ways to incorporate more vegetables into dishes they are already making.
  • On average, Americans consume more than the recommended amount of refined grains and not enough whole grains. We want to encourage people to choose whole grain options, like brown rice, whole-grain pasta, whole-wheat breads, and whole-grain cereals for at least half of the grains they consume.
  • Some groups, like adult men and teen boys, consume more than the recommended amounts of the meat, poultry, and eggs subgroup. We want to encourage people to eat a greater variety of protein foods and also consider having seafood twice a week instead of other choices that are higher in saturated fats, like processed meats and poultry with skin.

Share how to make healthy shifts with your patients and clients

Help Patients and Clients Stay Within Healthy Limits for Added Sugars, Saturated Fats, and Sodium

In addition to encouraging healthy shifts, this edition of the Dietary Guidelines provides Key Recommendations that define quantitative limits for dietary components of particular public health concern in the United States to help achieve healthy eating patterns within calorie limits.

  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars. When added sugars exceed 10 percent of calories, a healthy eating pattern may be difficult to achieve without exceeding recommended calorie limits. This is the first edition to provide a specific quantitative target for calories from added sugars.
  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. However, replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates is not associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Consume less than 2,300 milligrams per day of sodium. Evidence shows a relationship between increased sodium intake and increased blood pressure.

Share how to cut down on added sugars with patients and clients. Look for resources on saturated fats and sodium at in the coming months.

Additional resources for health professionals are available, including a downloadable PDF of the full 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Executive Summary in English and Spanish, recommendations at-a-glance in English and Spanish, and a PowerPoint presentation complete with graphics from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines. Many individual graphics are also available to download, embed within websites, and share on social media. More resources will be added to in the coming months.

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