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How to apply new guidance on healthy eating

New advice on how to eat healthy is making news. But what does it mean for the average person?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently unveiled the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans

These are updated every five years. Policymakers use them to guide school lunch menus and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program).

This version repeats some advice you’ve likely heard before. But it also includes a first. And it did cause some controversy.

Here are some highlights:

  • Choose nutritious foods and drinks that fit your likes, culture, and budget
  • Eat nutrient-dense veggies, fruits, grains, dairy (or fortified soy alternatives), and proteins 
  • Stay within calorie limits

The USDA also recommends limits for added sugars, saturated fat, sodium, and alcohol:

  • Less than 10 percent of daily calories should come from added sugars
  • Less than 10 percent of daily calories should come from saturated fat
  • Limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams per day — that’s 1 teaspoon of table salt!
  • Limit 2 alcoholic drinks or less a day for men, and 1 drink or less a day for women

Check out the full Dietary Guidelines here.

A first-of-its-kind recommendation

This year, the guidelines include nutritional advice for babies and toddlers for the first time, reports CNN.

The guidelines say children younger than 2 years old should avoid all foods and drinks with added sugar. It’s to help prevent childhood obesity and other health issues.

They also recommend introducing foods like peanuts and eggs after 4 months of age. 

A report from points out that this suggestion might surprise some parents. However, it fits with a 2015 study that showed the early introduction of these foods reduced the risk of developing allergies.


Some scientists and public health leaders were disappointed with the guidelines. The Advisory Board released a report summarizing some of the criticism. People were surprised the guidelines did not incorporate proposals from an advisory panel. Those recommendations suggested stricter limits on sugar and alcohol.

Putting the advice to use

In a feature from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Eric Rimm, a professor in the Departments of Epidemiology and Nutrition, said most folks don’t know how to apply the advice found in the dietary guidelines.

He suggests approaching it a different way. For example:

  • Focus on eating whole foods instead of processed foods, like white bread
  • Add in more chicken, fish, or soy protein instead of red meat
  • Look for ways to make healthy eating more affordable, like adding dried beans and frozen fruits and vegetables into your diet
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