July 30, 2020

What’s on the Plate for the Next Dietary Guidelines for Americans

As the U.S. grapples with the enormous intersecting pandemics of undernutrition, obesity, climate change and COVID-19, the importance of a healthy diet has never been clearer. Within this extremely timely context, the U.S. government is now undertaking the important task of updating the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (or DGA) – the country’s science-based recommendations for a healthy diet.

On July 15, the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (or DGAC), a group of 20 nutrition science experts assembled by the government, culminated a year-long review of the latest research and released their scientific report. This report will serve as a key resource for the government as it develops the 2020-2025 DGA, expected by the end of this year.

Here are five big takeaways from the report and what they mean for the food and beverage landscape.

1. Added sugar and alcohol may be on the chopping block.

The report mostly aligns with the current DGA advice – such as limiting saturated fat and cholesterol and promoting standard food groups like whole grains and dairy. But when it comes to added sugars and alcohol, the report recommends making striking cuts: reduce intake of added sugars to less than 6% of daily calories (versus the current 10%) and limit alcohol to one drink per day for men (versus the current two drinks per day).

Whether the government ultimately adopts these new levels remains to be seen, as changes will be considered in the context of the scientific evidence, as well as agency and public comments (due August 13).

What This Could Mean: A lower added sugars limit could bring about major changes, including new product restrictions in school meals and nutrition assistance programs, more stringent nutrition claims criteria and further changes to the recently overhauled Nutrition Facts Label. Meanwhile, alcohol changes would require wine, beer and spirits companies to revisit communications to ensure alignment with DGA advice.

2. Advice is tailored to ages and life stages.

While the DGA have historically offered general dietary guidance for all Americans 2 years and older, the new advice will get more detailed with life stage-specific recommendations for pregnancy, lactation, birth to 24 months, childhood, adolescence and adulthood. The supporting rationale is that each life stage has its own unique nutritional needs and can affect eating habits and health later in life.

What This Could Mean: Products aimed at individual life stages (children, infants, toddlers, etc.) are likely to be scrutinized against their new relevant dietary recommendations. Ensuring products and communications hit on the unique science-based needs of their intended population will be important

3. Plant-based foods play a role in healthy diets.

Plant-based foods are mentioned several times as the main component of healthy dietary patterns. Interestingly, the prior 2015 DGAC also mentioned the importance of plant-based foods, but in reference to both their health and environmental benefits. Any mention of environmental sustainability is absent from the 2020 report – likely because the issue was considered out of scope for the DGA.

What This Could Mean: Public health and consumer demand for nutrient-dense plant-based products will continue, and potentially grow. Food industry communicators can leverage DGAC report language to showcase how these products support healthy evidence-based diets.

4. Guidelines should reflect the intersection of nutrition and modern issues.

The report makes timely references to public health issues facing the nation, including COVID-19, racial and ethnic disparities and food security. There are specific calls to ensure dietary guidance is flexible enough to allow for cultural modifications. Additionally, the report mentions the importance of considering food cost, access and availability to support healthful diets for all Americans.

What This Could Mean: It is important that nutrition science, products and education are tailored to meet the needs of a diverse American population. This includes ensuring different cultures are represented and focus is placed on affordability and accessibility.

5. Significant work in nutrition research is still needed.

The 2020 DGAC was often constrained by a lack of strong research to develop robust recommendations. As a result, the report includes a particularly rich set of 100+ recommendations to direct future nutrition research. Suggestions include updating outdated Dietary Reference Intakes, improving the rigor of nutrition research and investigating less-understood topics of public interest (low-carbohydrate diets, immunity, frequency of eating, etc.)

What This Could Mean: Now is the time for stakeholders to plan and execute relevant research to inform the next DGA cycle – likely to begin in 2022. Studies should focus on recommended research areas, such as immunity and low-carbohydrate diets, and follow suggested methodology to ensure consideration by the next DGA.

To learn more about the DGAC scientific report and what it means for you, [email protected].

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