Food-based dietary guidelines

Food-based dietary guidelines - United States of America

Official name

2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Publication year

The United States published the 8th edition of its Dietary Guidelines for Americans in January 2016.

Process and stakeholders

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are jointly issued every 5 years by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). They are developed through a process that has become increasingly more robust and transparent with each edition.

The process to update the Dietary Guidelines occurs in two stages:

1. Reviewing the current scientific evidence. USDA and HHS instituted an Advisory Committee to: review the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, determine topics for which new scientific evidence was likely available and inform the development of the new edition. The Advisory Committee included prestigious researchers and scientists in the fields of nutrition, health, and medicine who met in public meetings from June 2013 to December 2014, to discuss its work and findings. The public was invited to submit comments throughout the entirety of its deliberations. The Committee used four methods to examine the scientific evidence on the relationships between diet and health: original systematic reviews; review of existing systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and reports by federal agencies or leading scientific organizations; data analyses; and food pattern modeling analyses. The work of the Advisory Committee was submitted to the Secretaries of HHS and USDA in the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, and made available for public comment.

2. Development the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans document is written by a group of experts from both HHS and USDA, who have extensive knowledge of nutrition and health science, federal nutrition recommendations, and program implementation. The 2015-2020 edition builds upon the 2010 edition with the scientific justification for revisions informed by the Advisory Committee’s report and consideration of public and Federal agency comments. A peer-review step also was completed, in which non-federal experts independently conducted a confidential review of the draft policy document for clarity and technical accuracy of the translation of the evidence from the Advisory Report into policy language. The final 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines was reviewed and approved by agencies across both Departments and, ultimately, by the Secretaries of HHS and USDA.

Intended audience

The Dietary Guidelines is intended for policymakers, nutrition educators, and health professionals in developing nutrition policy, education messages, and consumer materials for the general public and for specific audiences, such as children.

Recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines are intended for Americans ages 2 years and older, including those at increased risk of chronic disease. The focus of the Dietary Guidelines is disease prevention – they are not intended to treat disease. 

Food guide

The USDA Food Patterns (Dietary Guidelines, Appendices 3-5) were developed to help individuals carry out the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines. They identify daily amounts of foods, in nutrient-dense forms, to eat from five major food groups and their subgroups. The patterns also include an allowance for oils and describe the limited number of calories available for other uses, such as added sugars, saturated fats, and alcohol.

The US Department of Agriculture’s food icon, MyPlate, serves as a reminder to help individuals make healthier food choices. The MyPlate icon emphasizes the fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy groups. MyPlate is intended to prompt individuals to think about building a healthy plate at meal times.


The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides five overarching Guidelines that encourage healthy eating patterns:

  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. All food and beverage choices matter. Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  2. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.
  3. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake. Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.
  4. Shift to healthier food and beverages choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across and within all food groups in place of less healthy choices. Consider cultural and personal preferences to make these shifts easier to accomplish and maintain.
  5. Support healthy eating patterns for all. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple settings nationwide, from home to school to work to communities.

Additionally, the new issue of the Dietary Guidelines provides further key recommendations on how individuals can follow the five Guidelines:

The Dietary Guidelines’ Key Recommendations for healthy eating patterns should be applied in their entirety, given the interconnected relationship that each dietary component can have with others.

Consume a healthy eating pattern that accounts for all foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level.

A healthy eating pattern includes:

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups-dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and others
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils

A healthy eating pattern limits:

  • Saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium

Key Recommendations that are quantitative are provided for several components of the diet that should be limited. These components are of particular public health concern in the United States, and the specified limits can help individuals achieve healthy eating patterns within calorie limits:

  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars
  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats
  • Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium
  • If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men—and only by adults of legal drinking age.

In tandem with the recommendations above, Americans of all ages should meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans to help promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease. 

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides additional information about the Key Recommendations above, as well as recommended shifts in dietary intake that can help Americans move closer to healthier eating patterns and identifies strategies to promote healthy eating and physical activity across all segments of society.