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Order Up: The New Dietary Guidelines for Americans Are In

January 27, 2021

Every five years, the United States Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services update the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), which are used to develop, implement and evaluate federal food, nutrition and health policies, programs and public education materials. The development of the DGA takes into consideration the Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which conducts independent research on health and nutrition. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans debuted in late December 2020 and include some noteworthy changes – and lack thereof – that can impact individuals and organizations in food, beverage and agriculture.

Overall, the DGA recommends choosing healthy foods and beverages rich in nutrients and staying within a personalized calorie limit.


New Dietary Guidelines for ALL Ages. The most noteworthy change is the inclusion of specific dietary guidelines for all ages – from pregnancy and infancy through older adulthood. For the first time since 1985, the DGA also includes recommendations for infants. This change was made in the hopes of making nutrition easier to understand and personalized for each life stage.

Takeaway: Brands that develop products for consumers of varying ages should be respectful of this notable change to ensure they aren’t targeting inappropriate age groups based on the product’s nutrient profile.

Food Manufacturing. While food production is not detailed exhaustively, food manufacturers are encouraged to help Americans meet the DGA by offering more nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Reducing sodium, added sugars, saturated fat, refined starches and portion sizes are also all recommended. Sustainability practices in food production were not addressed.

Takeaway: Providing more nutrient-dense options is nothing new, however, brands and commodities would benefit from continuing to look for innovations that reduce the nutrients of concern – sodium, sugar and saturated fat – if possible.

Dietary Alternatives. Due to changing dietary habits and evolving consumer decisions, the new DGA addresses meat and dairy alternatives.

  • Meat: The DGA does not specifically address meat alternatives; however, it can be assumed that meat alternatives made with beans, peas, lentils or soy products are considered part of the “plant-based” protein category.
  • Milk: Dairy remains an important part of the DGA and ~90% of Americans do not meet dairy recommendations, according to the 2020-2025 DGA report. Because of this, dairy alternatives can be an important way to meet the needs of nutrients commonly found in dairy.

Takeaway: With a rise in consumer interest for meat and dairy alternatives, those in the food and agriculture sector should be mindful of these popular options and their impact on consumer behaviors.

What Didn’t Change:

Added Sugar and Alcohol. The scientific advisory also called for limiting daily alcohol consumption to one drink per day for men and women. However, the DGA rejected that recommendation and kept consistent with the 2015-2020 version: <2 drinks/day for men; <1 drink/day for women. Additionally, the DGA did not reduce added sugar intake from 10% to only 6% of daily calories, which was expected and drew some criticism.

Takeaway: While this may benefit alcohol and sugary products in the short-term, brands should be mindful of consumer and scientific criticism within this category and continue to recommend more nutritious choices whenever appropriate.

While expectations for the 2020-2025 DGA may have fallen short for some, the new approach to address nutrition by lifecycle stage is a major shift in how Americans and food manufacturers should approach nutrition.