New Dietary Guidelines – What do they mean?

Healthy Food ObsessionEvery five years, the federal government publishes a set of recommendations, known as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs).  These guidelines offer nutrition and health advice about the best known ways to prevent disease and stay healthy.  In January, the new 2015-2020 guidelines were released.  So what are the important things you need to know?

Eating Patterns

As many as 75% of teens are not getting enough fruits, vegetables, and dairy!  The writers of the DGAs also found some adolescents are eating too much saturated fat, salt and sugars.  This is important because food and beverage choices that we make today can have both short and long term health effects.  In order to get all the nutrients your body needs, the DGAs recommend eating a variety of foods with important vitamins and minerals such as:

  • Colorful fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and brown rice
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy including milk, yogurt, cheese, and /or fortified unsweetened soy beverages
  • Protein foods such as seafood, lean chicken or meat, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils such as olive, canola, sesame, or peanut

Added Sugars

The average teen consumes about 25 sugar packets worth of added sugar per day – that’s twice the amount of added sugar you should be eating!  Eating too much added sugar can lead to major health problems such as obesity and diabetes.   Added sugars are syrups and sweeteners that are added to make the food sweeter.  If you look at a Nutrition Facts label under “Ingredients,” you might notice added sugars such as:  brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, trehalose, and turbinado sugar.  Sugars that occur naturally, such as in milk or fruit are not added sugars.

To lower the amount of added sugar that you eat, try these tips:

  • Choose whole fruits instead of fruit juices
  • Minimize your intake of candy and sweets by eating a balanced diet of fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats – this can help to decrease cravings for sweets!
  • Replace sweetened beverages such as soda or sports drinks with unsweetened drinks such as water, seltzer, and fat-free or low-fat milk


The average teen consumes over twice the amount recommended sodium per day!  Sodium can raise your blood pressure, which is unhealthy for your body.  The DGAs recommend that teens should consume less than 2300mg of sodium per day, which is about one teaspoon of salt.  Most excess sodium comes from packaged snacks and canned food items. Here are some examples:

  • 2 cups of Kraft mac & cheese: ~1400mg (more than half the recommended daily limit of sodium)
  • 1 cup of canned chicken noodle soup: ~1100mg (just under half of the daily limit)
  • 10-piece chicken McNuggets®: ~900mg (about 40% of recommended daily limit)

To lessen the amount of sodium in your diet try the following tips:

  • Eat fresh vegetables and fruits instead of canned (if you choose canned, rinse to remove excess salt)
  • Cook dinner instead of buying fast food or eating out
  • Try to use less condiments such as ketchup, soy sauce, and bottled salad dressing

You don’t have to be a doctor or dietitian to encourage others to eat healthfully. We all have a role in promoting health and wellness, whether at home, in school, at sports practice, or at work.  By practicing healthy eating patterns, you can become a role model to others around you! Check out these other Teen Speak posts for more ideas about meal planning, grocery shopping and more.

– Rebecca