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What Are the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Should I Follow Them?

The start of a new year marks a time for reflection and new goals. Whether you’re someone who enjoys the New Year’s Resolution tradition, or you’d rather focus on consistency and enhancing what is already serving you well, remaining healthy or improving health seems to always be on the mind. In the quest for good health, you may find yourself searching for healthy diets or foods to eat to improve health. In a time of endless fad diets and an overabundance of food products, it’s challenging to filter out the noise and identify evidence-based information.  

Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publish the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The purpose of the DGA is to provide evidence on what to eat and drink to meet nutrient needs, promote health and prevent disease. While the DGA is written for a professional audience, such as policymakers and healthcare providers, it can serve as a reference for individuals looking for sound advice. Here are a couple of recommendations from the most recent Guidelines (2020-2025): 

  • Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages, and stay within calorie limits. Core elements that make up a healthy dietary pattern include: 
    • Vegetables of all types 
    • Fruits, especially whole fruit 
    • Grains, at least half of which are whole grain 
    • Dairy 
    • Protein foods, including lean meats, poultry, and eggs; seafood; beans, peas and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products 
    • Oils, including vegetable oils and oils in food, such as seafood and nuts 
  • Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages. 
    • Added sugars  less than 10% of calories per day 
    • Saturated fat – less than 10% of calories per day  
    • Sodium  less than 2,300 mg per day 
    • Alcoholic beverages – limit intake to 2 drinks or less per day for men and 1 drink or less per day for women, when alcohol is consumed. Drinking less is better for health.  

But – reader beware. While the DGA provides sound nutrition recommendations (more trustworthy than the latest diet book or trending article on Facebook), the publication is not free from bias. It’s imperative to understand the process behind the DGA.  

  1. Scientific Review: An external Federal Advisory Committee, made up of scientific experts in nutrition and medicine, reviews the current body of nutrition science.  
  2. The Scientific Report: The DGA Committee provides a report, called the Scientific Report of the [insert year] Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, to the USDA and DHHS. Note, this report is advisory only.  
  3. Development of the DGA: The Scientific Report is used by the Departments to develop the DGA.  

Heavy lobbying can make its way into the process between steps 2 and 3, such as by proponents of meat, saturated fat and low-carbohydrate diets. As such, you may be better off using the Scientific Report (found here) rather than the Federal Government’s publication (found here) for your dietary guidance. However, this report can be cumbersome. So if you review the more reader-friendly DGA, remember to use it as just that, a guideline. Corroborate the recommendations with additional trusted sources, such as consulting with your physician or advice from a trusted nutrition expert, and remember, in the words of food journalist Michael Pollan, “eat real food, not too much, and mostly plants.” 

Nicole Schultz Ninteau is the Physical Capital Resources Manager with Schultz Financial Group Inc.

Schultz Financial Group Inc. (SFG) is a wealth management firm located in Reno, NV. Our approach to wealth management is different from many other wealth managers, financial advisors, and financial planners. Our team of fee-only fiduciaries strives to help our clients build their wealth across four capitals: Financial Matters, Physical Well-being, Psychological Space, and Intellectual Engagement. We provide family office and wealth management services to clients located in Nevada, California, and other states. If you’d like more information, please check out our website or reach out to us via our contact page.

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