It’s been four decades since the release of the first Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a science-based how-to for developing a nutritionally adequate diet at all ages. Released every five years, each subsequent edition builds on the previous by incorporating new research showcasing the profound way certain foods and eating habits can lead to healthier lifestyles and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
While the Dietary Guidelines, a policy document, is written for nutrition and health professionals, educators, and policymakers, they provide dietary recommendations for the general public. However, nutrition needs for infants and toddlers vary greatly from that of older adults. That’s why the latest edition, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,released in December now gives targeted guidance on healthy dietary pattens at all life stages. (Dietary patterns are the totality of what a person habitually eats and drinks.) This edition is the first time that guidance is broken up into life stages, from birth to older adulthood, and organized into specific chapters. This emphasis on lifespan, which also includes recommendations during pregnancy and lactation, helps underscore the point that it’s never too early or late to eat healthy.
For the first time since the 1985 edition, the latest Dietary Guidelines also include recommendations for infants and toddlers. Similar to adults, toddlers (from 12 to 23 months) aren’t hitting recommended dietary intake for certain nutrients and foods groups, while exceeding others. The new Dietary Guidelines report that while most toddlers meet or exceed recommended intakes for fruit, nearly 90 percent fall short of vegetable recommendations. Grain and dairy consumption exceed recommended intakes.
The new infant/toddler recommendations (birth through 23 months) include the following:
- Exclusively feed infants human milk through the first six months of life. Human milk offers a majority of necessary nutrients and immunologic properties supporting infant health, growth, and development.
- Provide infants supplemental vitamin D soon after birth if solely feeding them human milk. (Infant formula is typically fortified with vitamin D.)
- Introduce infants to nutrient-dense complementary foods at about six months of life that are nutrient-rich (including iron and zinc) and comprise all food groups.
- Introduce potentially allergenic foods (e.g., peanuts, egg, milk products, fish, soy) when introducing complementary foods. Infants can reduce their risk of a peanut allergy if they eat peanut-containing foods their first year.
- Establish a healthy dietary pattern for toddlers that replaces common choices with healthier options (e.g., choose unsweetened beverages over sugar-sweetened ones and vegetables over high-sodium snacks). Science shows that early food preferences influence food choices later in life.
- Avoid added sugars and sodium.
Women who are pregnant and breastfeeding have special recommendations in the new Guidelines. It includes estimated changes in calorie needs and weight management recommendations during various stages of pregnancy as well as special nutrition considerations. For instance, seafood consumption should not exceed 12 ounces per week and caffeine intake should be kept to low or moderate amounts (no more than 300 milligrams a day, or about two cups of coffee).
Another key addition to the new Guidelines is increased focus on the cultural diversity of food and how the Guidelines can provide a framework for customizing the foodways of diverse populations. We will discuss this focus in a future blog post.
In the meantime, download the new edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for more information. Also, read this blog from Shelley Maniscalco, Nutrition On Demand’s founding partner, on the process that led to the creation of the Guidelines.
—Fred Durso, Jr., is a Nutrition On Demand intern currently pursuing a master’s degree in food and nutrition and the necessary requirements to become a registered dietitian. Prior to heading back to school, he spent more than a decade as a journalist/communications specialist.