Americans Still Waiting for Missing 2021 Dietary Guidelines’ Release

Mary Hartley, RD, MPH, is the director of nutrition for Calorie Count, providing domain expertise on issues related to nutrition, weight loss and health. She creates original content for weekly blogs and newsletters, for the Calorie Count library, and for her popular daily Question-and-Answer section, Ask Mary. Ms. Hartley also furnishes direction for the site features and for product development.

UPDATE 1/31/2021: The 2021 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released this morning. A full rundown on the changes can be found here.

The nutrition community has been expectantly waiting for the 2021 Dietary Guidelines, which at this point, are a month late in their release. The Guidelines contain the authoritative information about the best diet to prevent disease. Since 1980, they have been published every five years by law.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are jointly published by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). They are revised to reflect scientific advances in the knowledge of what constitutes an ideal diet. They are the basis of Federal nutrition education programs, including My Pyramid and the Nutrition Facts labels, and they guide the foods that are offered by School Lunch, WIC and other Federal nutrition programs.

To develop the Guidelines, a group of nationally recognized nutrition experts is convened. They are scientists and representatives of the professions appointed by the secretaries of USDA and HHS. The group presents the latest research, deliberates, and develops a policy document. The informed public then provides comments, and Guidelines are revised and finalized.

So, what changes do we expect to see in these new Guidelines?

Some of the key recommendations of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines are these:

  • Consume adequate nutrients within calorie needs and maintain weight in the healthy range.
  • Engage in 30-minutes of moderate activity most days and achieve physical fitness. 
  • Keep fat calories between 20% and 35% of total calories and saturated fat to 10% or less.
  • Make 50% of all grain high fiber and cap added sugar at 10 % of total calories
  • Keep sodium to less than 2,400 milligrams a day and eat more high potassium foods. 
  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all

The next set of Dietary Guidelines is expected to address the pressing problem of obesity. The key recommendations are likely to seek:

  • Reductions in daily calorie intake guidelines
  • Further reductions in added sugars and solid fat
  • Lower saturated fat limits to 7% of total calories
  • Sodium limited to 1,500 milligrams a day
  • A push for more seafood
  • A shift to a more plant-based diet with more vegetables, dried beans, fruits, nuts, and whole grains
  • Limits for “screen time” (TV and video games) for kids

The public is not privy to the reason for the hold up, but several issues may be to blame: the scientific evidence could be weak; the food industry might want softer language; the government may see the Guidelines as impossible to achieve.

And in the meantime, while these potential issues are addressed, we wait.

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