2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The United States is facing an epidemic of obesity. An estimated 74 % of all US adults, are considered overweight or obese. More than half get too little physical activity and 76.5 % fail to meet the physical activity guidelines for recommended activities.

Americans need to understand that daily choices in food and physical activity affect health today, tomorrow, and in the future. Eating right and being physically active are critical to a healthy lifestyle and are not just a “diet” or a “program.” Instilling these values at a young age is crucial to our health, as 1 in 6 children and adolescents ages 2 to 9 are considered obese.

The federal government’s 2021-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is the best science-based advice available for Americans over the age of two. It advises what to eat to improve one’s health and focuses on chronic diet-disease related prevention instead of treatment. Five overarching recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines are:

  • Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan
  • Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount
  • Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats. Reduce sodium
  • intake
  • Shift to healthier food and beverage choices
  • Support healthy eating patterns for all

Adopting these lifestyle changes increases the chances for a longer life and reduces the risk of chronic diet-related diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain cancers.

Past issues of the Dietary Guidelines focused on individual dietary components like nutrients and food groups. However, the 2021-2025 Dietary Guidelines are moving away from that mindset as real people do not eat in terms of isolated food groups but rather combine them all together. One’s diet is now thought of as the overall eating pattern that consists of all the specific food groups and can be tailored to each individual’s needs. Follow these recommendations as well as the level of physical activity needed.

Physical Activity

Find the balance between food and physical activity, as regular physical activity is one of the most important ways individuals can improve their health. Being physically active every day helps to promote health, psychological well-being, and healthy body weight. Adults are recommended to have at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise 2 days a week, and youth need 60 minutes of physical activity daily.

Daily exercise can lower the risk of:

  • Early death
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stoke
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Breast and colon cancer

One can achieve physical fitness by including:

  • Aerobic exercises such as swimming or running
  • Muscle-strengthening exercise such as weight lifting
  • Bone-strengthening activities

Food Groups to Incorporate into your Healthy Lifestyle

Vegetables: A healthy diet includes a variety of vegetables from the 5 subgroups and a serving size of 2 ½ cups per day. Vegetables are a great source of dietary fiber, potassium, and many key vitamins.

Dark Green Vegetables: Broccoli, spinach, collards, turnip greens, kale, beet and mustard greens, green leaf lettuce, and romaine lettuce.

Red/Orange Vegetables: Carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and pumpkin.

Legumes: Dry beans, such as pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans,

and garbanzo beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils.

Starchy Vegetables: Corn, white potatoes, and green peas.

Other Vegetables: Tomatoes, cabbage, celery, cucumber, lettuce, onions, peppers, green beans, cauliflower, mushrooms, and summer squash.

Fruits: This food group includes whole fruits and 100% fruit juice. The Dietary Guideline recommends 2 cups of fruit per day. This can come in the form of fresh, canned, frozen, or dried.

Grain Products: It is recommended an individual eats 6 ounces of grains per day. One should limit their intake of products that contain refined grains as they can be high in saturated fats, added sugar, and sodium. Refined grains can be unhealthy because they lack dietary fiber, iron, and other nutrients. Some examples of relatively unhealthy grains include cookies and cakes. Grain foods within the grain food group can be considered single foods (rice, popcorn, and oatmeal) or products that contain grains as an ingredient (bread, cereal, pasta).

Dairy Products: The daily recommended amount of dairy consumption varies based on age in the US. Children ages 2 to 3 are recommended 2 cups, children 4-8 are recommended 2 ½ cups, and adults are recommended 3 cups daily. A healthy eating pattern contains dairy, which is fat-free or low in fat (1%). Options to get your daily dairy intake include milk, yogurt, cheese, and soymilk. People who cannot consume milk may choose lactose-free milk products and/or calcium-fortified foods and beverages.

Protein Foods: A healthy diet contains a variety of nutrient-dense protein foods. The recommended amount of protein foods in one’s daily diet should be 5 ½ ounces. Protein can also be found in nuts, seeds, and soy products.

Seafood: Seafood (fish and shellfish) has received more attention since the 2010 Dietary Guidelines as it became associated with reduced cardiac death and the improved health of infants when consumed by pregnant women. It is recommended that the general population eats about 8 ounces per week as that provides 250 mg per day of EPA and DHA (vital nutrients).

Meats, Poultry, Eggs:

The recommendation for meats, poultry, and eggs is 26 ounces per week. Red meats include beef, pork, lamb, veal, and goat. Poultry is all forms of chicken, duck, turkey, and game birds. It is recommended to stay away from processed meats and poultries, such as sausage, bacon, and beef jerky, as studies show that lower intake of them is associated with a reduced risk of CVD. The healthier way an individual can reach their 26-ounce recommendation per week is by choosing lean meat/poultry and eggs as sources of protein.

Oils: It is recommended one consumes 27 g or 5 teaspoons of oil per day. These oils are not part of a food group yet are recommended in one’s healthy eating patterns for their abundance in vitamin E and essential fatty acids. Oils, specifically, are fats that contain high percentages of monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Oils that are commonly consumed are canola, corn, olive, soybean, peanut, and sunflower oil.

Alcoholic Beverages

  • Those who choose to drink alcoholic beverages should do so sensibly and in moderation—defined as the consumption of up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.
  • Alcoholic beverages should not be consumed by some individuals,
  • including
    • those who cannot restrict their alcohol intake,
    • women of childbearing age who may become pregnant,
    • pregnant and lactating women,
    • children and adolescents,
    • individuals taking medications that can interact with alcohol, and
    • those with specific medical conditions.
    • Alcoholic beverages should be avoided by individuals engaging in activities that require attention, skill, or coordination, such as driving or operating machinery.

Food Safety Guidelines

  • To avoid microbial foodborne illness:
  • Clean hands, food contact surfaces, and fruits and vegetables. Meat and poultry should not be washed or rinsed.
  • Separate raw, cooked, and ready-to-eat foods while shopping, preparing, and storing foods.
  • Cook foods at their recommended safe minimum internal temperature to kill harmful microorganisms.
  • Chill (refrigerate) perishable food promptly and defrost foods properly.

Avoid the following:

  • raw (unpasteurized) milk or any products made from
  • unpasteurized milk,
  • raw or partially cooked eggs or foods containing raw eggs,
  • raw or undercooked meat and poultry,
  • unpasteurized juices, and
  • raw sprouts.

By law, the Dietary Guidelines is reviewed, updated if necessary, and published every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Note: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2021-2025 contains additional

recommendations for specific populations. The full document is available at

To reflect the updates and changes in the Dietary Guidelines, the U.S.

Department of Agriculture replaced the Food Guide Pyramid with MyPlate.


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Finding Your Way to a Healthier You: Based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2005.
  3. Henneman, Alice. University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County. Spending Your Calorie Salary: Tips for Using the 2005 Dietary Guidelines. February 2005.

Originally published 09/05

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at or 1-888-656-9988.

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