by Grace Rivers, RDN, CDCES
“Make every bite count with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans” is the call to action of the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs). First created in 1980 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS), the guidelines are now published every five years. Congress passed the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act in 1990, requiring this report. The DGAs give guidance on health promotion, help prevent chronic disease, and meet nutrient needs. They also serve as the foundation for federal food, nutrition, and health policies and evolve based on scientific knowledge.
The DGAs are a flexible guide, not a hard-core prescription. They encourage following a healthy eating pattern throughout life, eating nutrient-packed foods within your budget, and meeting your personal preferences and the traditions of your culture.
New to the guidelines
For the first time, the guidelines include information for birth to 24 months of age, pregnant and lactating women, and older adults. There is guidance for all life stages.
Nutrients of Public Health Concern
We don’t eat enough of four nutrients, so these are considered nutrients of concern.
Nutrients to limit
Added sugars – Monitor your added sugar intake by reading Nutrition Facts labels for “Includes Added Sugars” and avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages.
Saturated fat – Avoid excessively fatty meats and check Nutrition Facts labels for “Saturated Fat” content.
Sodium – Limit your daily intake to 2300 mg by checking “Sodium” on Nutrition Facts labels.
Alcohol – The DGAs point out not to save up alcoholic beverages for binging. Limiting drinks to one for women and two for men is the recommendation.
What this means for PWD
A standard diabetes diet does not exist, but there are guidelines to help manage risk factors. Reducing sodium, increasing potassium through food, and weight loss can put you in the driver’s seat with regard to high blood pressure. Two of the guidelines for managing lipid levels are weight loss and increasing viscous (soluble) fiber.
Putting it all together
Look closely at the two sets of guidelines (the DGA’s and eating recommendations for diabetes). You will see that they sing the same song in many cases.
The DGAs use the USDA plate for guidance on how to include foods in a meal. The diabetes plate is one method used to help PWD. There have also been variations of the diabetes plate. Eating is individualized, so whichever method you choose to follow, they all include fruits, veggies, whole grains, protein, and dairy.
If looking at the nutrients of concern, some foods can help us meet that gap. Fruits, veggies, beans, peas, and lentils can increase potassium and fiber. Dairy and soy milk can help increase calcium, vitamin D, and potassium.
Beans, peas, and lentils can count as a protein source if you haven’t met your protein needs for a meal. If you have enough protein in a meal, then count them as a veggie. These contain soluble fiber, which can help us feel full longer by slowing the time it takes our food to empty from our stomach and travel into the small intestine. They also cause blood sugar levels to be lower after eating. Another positive for this group is that they can help manage blood cholesterol by preventing dietary fats’ absorption.
But what about the carb content?
Beans do have carbs, so count them when planning a meal. Due to the slow rise of blood sugar after eating, you may want to check your level an hour and 2 hours after eating or more frequently if needed until you learn how they impact your blood sugar level.
The guidelines can serve as a tool to help plan a healthy eating pattern for the general public and someone with a chronic disease such as diabetes. It all comes down to your eating pattern over time, not what you eat occasionally. Whether someone has diabetes or not, we can all benefit from the DGAs.