Foods representing various food groups

Determining what to eat? The Dietary Guidelines (2020-2025) may help! 

When you have been diagnosed with diabetes and prediabetes, a lot of emphasis is placed on what and when you eat. But too often, the focus is merely on suggesting very limited sugar and carbohydrate intake, and not enough discussion regarding the quality of the food. Regardless of whether you have diabetes, prediabetes or neither, the focus of eating should really be on the quality of the foods you choose first and foremost. 

DGA as a Source of Dietary Information

One source of information to help guide our decisions in eating are the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The Guidelines are published by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and reviewed every 5 years to determine whether the recommendations are continuing to follow the most recent science. 

The reason for the DGA is to be a consistent source for health care providers and policymakers regarding healthy eating. An advisory committee reviews the current science and makes recommendations for any changes that should be addressed. 

DGA Guidelines

The most current recommendations were released at the end of 2020. Here are some of the highlights.

Eating healthfully throughout the lifespan promotes health and reduces the risk of chronic disease such as heart disease, hypertension and type 2 diabetes. 

Core elements of a healthy diet include eating a variety of vegetables, with emphasis on those rich in color – for example spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. 

Fruit should also be included, and as a side note berries and melons tend to be lower in carbohydrates while providing many nutrients to keep you well. 

Including whole grains and low fat dairy are also a part of a healthy food plan. 

Protein rich foods should be included: lean meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, legumes such as pinto and black beans, nuts and seeds. 

Oils (vegetable) and nuts and seeds can also be part of a healthy food plan. This collaborates with the Mediterranean food plan that is well documented to promote health and the DASH diet.

Conflict Over Sugars and Alcohol

There was some conflict with the new DGA report over how restrictive to be over added sugars and alcohol. In previous DGA iterations, the recommendation has been to limit sugar to no more than 10% of the total calories, and to limit alcohol to 1 alcoholic beverage per day for women and 2 for men. For 2020, the advisory committee recommended further restrictions to no more than 6% of total calories for added sugar, and no more than 1 alcoholic beverage for women AND men. These recommendations were not included in the most recent recommendations as the USDA and HHS did not feel there was enough evidence in the research literature to support these recommendations. 

In practicality, it is very challenging to discern 6% or 10% of total calories in a recommendation for consumers. Limiting added sugars (few or no regular sodas, hard candies, cakes, cookies, etc.) may be a more reasonable approach. 

The lack of change in the alcohol recommendation likewise lacked substantial evidence for the change. However, I would suggest there should be more overall attention to both of these recommendations in general (less sugar, limited alcohol) for all persons regardless of the actual percentage or number stated. It is estimated that overall in the US population less than 60% of the dietary guidelines are followed. 

Significant Addition to DGA

The biggest addition to the new guidelines is the recommendations for pregnant and lactating women, infants and toddlers. This includes the recommendation for breastfeeding for at least the first 6 months, and up to a year if possible, following guidance the Academy of Pediatrics has recommended for many years. There is also guidance for pregnant and lactating women, supporting the concept of eating from a variety of food groups – being inclusive of all groups. These recommendations also address toddlers, helping to complete the lifecycle, encouraging all persons to eat a well-balanced food plan throughout their entire life.

Take a look at the recommendations. The document is free to the public and contains other important information including food safety and menus ideas. For further information look here:

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