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Dear Dietitian – What do the new dietary guidelines mean for me?

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PICT Leanne McCrate Dear Dietitian
Leanne McCrate, RDN, LD, CNSC

Dear Readers: The 2020-2025 US Dietary Guidelines were unveiled last week by the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. These recommendations are based on scientific evidence and advised by a team of nutrition experts, including Registered Dietitians, Medical Doctors, and Professors of Nutrition. The Dietary Guidelines aim to promote health and prevent disease. 

The theme of the new guide is “Make every bite count.” The recommendations encourage us to choose nutrient-dense foods, which provide a high amount of nutrients relative to calories. An egg is an example of a nutrient-dense food. A sugar-sweetened soda pop is an example of “empty calories,” a food or beverage that provides calories but very little nutrition.

The dietary guidelines can be summarized as follows:

  1. Eat your veggies- select colorful vegetables of all types, starchy and non-starchy. Don’t forget beans, peas, and lentils.
  2. Focus on whole fruits. If you choose canned fruit, select one that is sweetened by its own juice.
  3. Choose whole grains. At least half your bread, cereal, crackers, and pasta should be whole grains. Some examples of whole grains are oats, whole wheat, and brown rice. 
  4. Dairy-select fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese OR choose non-dairy options that have been fortified with calcium, such as almond milk or soy yogurt.
  5. Protein-select lean meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, or soy products.
  6. Fats and oils- use sparingly. Choose vegetable oils
  7. Keep sodium to 2300 mg per day (one teaspoon). This includes the amount of salt in food before using the salt shaker. This limit is based on evidence that reducing sodium will lower the risks of heart disease and high blood pressure.
  8. Eliminate sugar-sweetened drinks.

The HHS and USDA were criticized for not reducing added sugar and alcohol advice. The advisory board recommended Americans reduce the amount of added sugars in their diet from 10 percent of calories to 6 percent. They also called for a reduction in alcohol intake for men from two drinks a day to one. The group cited insufficient scientific evidence for making these reductions.

To live a healthy lifestyle, we have to stay within our calorie limits. Easier said than done. Most adults need around 2,000 calories each day to maintain weight. To find your appropriate calorie level, go to, then scroll down to Appendix 2. 

Finally, follow the 85/15 rule: 85% of calories should be met using the above guidelines; 15% may contain added sugars or alcohol.

May you all have a happy and healthy 2021!

Dear Dietitian


  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at
Leanne McCrate, RDN, LD, CNSC, is an award-winning dietitian based in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mission is to educate consumers on sound, scientifically-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her today at Dear Dietitian does not endorse any products, health programs, or diet plans.