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What you need to know about the USDA dietary guidelines


Every five years, the United States Department of Agriculture releases the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, giving Americans the tools to make more informed decisions about the foods they purchase and consume. The latest set of guidelines, covering 2020-2025, departed from its earlier editions to focus on specific recommendations organized by life stage instead of providing general advice.

“Each stage of life is distinct and has unique needs that affect health and disease risk,” the study authors wrote. “Early food preferences influence food and beverage choices later…The science also shows it’s never too late to start and maintain a healthy dietary pattern, which can yield health benefits in the short term and cumulatively over years.”

Here are some of the new guidelines’ key recommendations for the most vulnerable ages, including infants and toddlers, adolescents, and older adults. Please bear in mind that this list is not exhaustive, so check the guidelines for more recommendations and ensure that you and those you love are healthy and taken care of.

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Infants and toddlers

The study authors note that “children in this age group consume small quantities of food, so it’s important to make every bite count!” With that in mind, here are some of the main takeaways from the 2020-2025 guidelines:

  • Feed infants human milk through at least the first year of life, or use iron-fortified formula when human milk is unavailable.
  • Infants receiving human milk should also receive supplemental vitamin D beginning soon after birth. Discuss options with your health care provider before adding any type of supplement to an infant’s diet.
  • Introduce your baby to solid foods at about six months of age. Carefully introduce infants to common allergenic foods at about the same time to safely test for possible reactions and build their tolerance for these allergens.
  • Avoid foods and beverages with added sugars and high sodium content.

Children and adolescents

Unhealthy diets are common in this age group, as many adolescents gain more control over their diet and choose to consume sugary, high-fat snacks instead of balanced, nutritious meals. Get on top of your child’s nutritional needs with these recommendations for children 2-18 years old. The key takeaways include:

  • Preschool-aged children should be active throughout the day to enhance growth and development.
  • Children of all ages should receive multiple portions of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Choose healthy, whole grains as opposed to white, processed starches.
  • Encourage a diet full of lean protein like poultry, eggs, beans, soy, and nuts.
  • Keep an eye on portion size, and ensure the kids’ serving is smaller than the adults’.

Older adults

This section focuses on adults age 60 and older. While older adults generally have healthy diets that they’ve been following for decades, there are some important differences between mid-age and older adults’ diets. These small changes will ensure older adults optimize their health well into their golden years.

  • The recommended calorie intake decreases with age, so women ages 60 and older require about 1,600-2,200 calories per day, and men generally require about 2,000-2,600 calories per day.
  • Vitamin B12 is an important micronutrient responsible for protecting nerve and blood cells. As adults age, their ability to absorb vitamin B12 decreases, so it is crucial to prioritize the intake of this vitamin. Eat plenty of protein-filled foods as well as foods that have been fortified with vitamin B12, like breakfast cereal, or consider taking a supplement that contains vitamin B12.
  • Many older adults do not properly hydrate, as individuals 60 and older consume significantly fewer beverages compared with those aged 59 and under. Combat this difference by drinking more water and unsweetened beverages or eating foods with high water content, such as fruit.

If you have any additional questions about the USDA guidelines and recommendations, check out the full report for more information.

Regardless of age, however, staying hydrated, eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, and engaging in physical activity are the building blocks of a healthy lifestyle.

BlissMark provides information regarding health, wellness, and beauty. The information within this article is not intended to be medical advice. Before starting any diet or exercise routine, consult your physician. If you don’t have a primary care physician, the United States Health & Human Services department has a free online tool that can help you locate a clinic in your area. We are not medical professionals, have not verified or vetted any programs, and in no way intend our content to be anything more than informative and inspiring.

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Scott Harris
Scott Harris is a freelance writer based near Washington, DC, with more than a decade of experience covering health…
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