The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

By Wendy Hasse
Dietetic Intern

As most of us know, nutrition is not an exact science. This is why it seems like there is always something new in the news about nutrition, and conflicting facts are constantly released to the media regarding popular nutrition topics. I’m sure you’ve all heard headlines like, “Butter is No Longer Your Enemy” and “10 Reasons to Avoid Butter Forever.”

With the constant conflicting headlines in the media, it can be hard to figure out what the most recent evidence truly suggests. So what should you believe?

Lucky for us, every five years the The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) publishes a new set of dietary guidelines in order to protect the health of the American public. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides us with guidance for choosing a healthy diet that has been shown to reduce the risk of diet-related chronic diseases.

These guidelines are based off of the most recent scientific evidence in the field of nutrition, and are culminated by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, comprised of prestigious researchers in the fields of nutrition, health and medicine. In short, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is a summary of their most recent evidence-based dietary recommendations. Sounds easy, right?

Well the report is extremely long, so it can be tough for the average American to get around to reading it all. The purpose of this post is to give you the key points and fast facts that you need to know to choose the healthiest diet possible based off of the most recent research in nutrition.

Tip #1: Limit added sugars to 10% of your total calories per day

Added sugars are sugars that are added into food or beverages in order to sweeten them. The problem with consuming too many added sugars is that it adds calories to your diet without proving any nutrients. Natural sugars on the other hand, add essential nutrients to an individual’s diet. Fruit and milk are examples of nutrient-rich foods that contain natural sugars.

To limit sugars:


  • Fresh fruit
  • Plain yogurt with fruit
  • Water, unsweetened iced tea, black coffee
  • Salad with a dash of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon
  • Low-sugar cereals like Kix, Cheerios and Total
  • Low-sugar jams and jellies, natural peanut butter
  • Condiments like mustard, pesto and hot sauce


  • Fruit in canned syrup
  • Yogurt with fruit in the bottom
  • Soda, juices with added sugar, energy drinks
  • Salad with light/fat-free dressing
  • High-sugar cereals like Raisin Bran, low-fat granola and Honey Nut Cheerios
  • Jams and jellies
  • Condiments like BBQ sauce, ketchup and sweet and sour sauce

Tip # 2: Consume less than 10% of calories from saturated fat per day.

You may have heard that there are “good fats” and “bad fats.” Well the bad fats are considered the saturated fats. Saturated fats have a different structure than unsaturated fats and can contribute to the occurrence of cardiovascular disease. However, evidence suggests that if you replace calories from saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats, the risk is reduced. Sources of polyunsaturated fats include: nuts, seeds, plant-based oils, and fatty fish.

To limit your saturated fat intake:


  • Skinless poultry, white pork and lean cuts of beef like sirloin steak
  • Non-fat or low-fat dairy products like skim milk
  • Nut butters, olive oil, canola oil
  • Fish (especially fatty fish like salmon, sardines and tuna)


  • Fried foods and poultry with the skin on
  • Full-fat dairy products like whole milk
  • Butter, lard, shortening
  • Fried fish, hamburgers, pizza, fast food

Tip #3: Eat as little cholesterol as possible as part of a healthy eating pattern 

However there is no specific limit for intake of dietary cholesterol per day. Dietary patterns that contain less cholesterol may decrease the risk for heart disease, but because nutrients are not consumed in an isolated manner, it is unclear weather this association is due to the fact that foods higher in dietary cholesterol are also usually higher in saturated fats.

Therefore, more research needs to be done to determine the relationship between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol. Here are some tips to reduce your intake of dietary cholesterol—the quickest tip is that cholesterol is ONLY found in animal products. 


  • Plant-based options, such as dried beans, whole grains, soy products, nuts and seeds


  • Animal products

Tip #4: Limit your intake of sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day

It is further recommended that individuals with high blood pressure consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium each day. The average sodium intake for Americans is about 3,440 mg/day!

Sodium can be tough to decrease in your diet because it is used in food for so many purposes, such as curing meat, baking, thickening, as a preservative and to enhance flavor. However, any decrease in sodium consumption can be beneficial for improving heart health. Here are some tips to eat less salt.


  • Fresh or frozen vegetables, or low-sodium canned vegetables
  • Meals flavored with herbs, and salt-free seasonings
  • Fresh/frozen cuts of meat, fish and poultry that are not pre-marinated
  • Whole grains with less sodium, like shredded wheat and cooked cereals
  • Fresh or frozen fruit


  • Canned vegetables with added salt
  • Meals with added table salt
  • Processed meats like bacon, ham and lunch meat
  • Salty snack foods like chips, crackers and pretzels
  • Processed foods like pizza, baked goods and soups

Tip #5: Moderate coffee and caffeine intake

Based on strong, consistent evidence, moderate consumption of coffee has not been associated with increased risk for chronic diseases or premature death. However, it is not recommended that individuals who do not consume caffeinated coffee incorporate it into their diet.

As for energy drinks with caffeine, there is limited evidence to determine if they have an effect on health outcomes. However, energy drinks contribute calories to one’s diet without adding any nutrients. For example, an 8-oz cup of coffee has 2 calories, while an 8-oz can of Monster Energy Drink has 100!

Coffee with added creamer and sugar and energy drinks can contribute extra calories to your diet. So when it comes to caffeine, it may be best to stick with good old-fashioned black coffee.

Remember the food groups? Here are the five recommendations for how much to eat of each food group everyday based on a 2,000-calorie diet

  1. Eat about 2 ½ cups of vegetables everyday. Avoid putting butter and salt on your veggies. Instead, use salt-free seasonings like cumin and onion powder to zest up your vegetables.
  1. Eat about 2 cups of fruit everyday. Avoid putting sugar on your fruit or buying fruit-flavored desserts. Try a fruit smoothie with frozen fruit (with no sugar-added), fat-free yogurt, and skim milk for a change of pace.
  1. Eat 6-ounces of grains everyday. Eat more whole grains from oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and whole-wheat crackers. Check the food labels on breads to make sure the first ingredient is WHOLE wheat. Also check the fiber content and pick breads that have more fiber per slice.
  1. Have 3 cup-equivalents of low-fat dairy foods per day. Focus on fat-free or low-fat varieties of dairy foods. If you are used to drinking whole milk try switching to 2% then 1%, then skim milk in a progressive fashion.
  1. Eat 5 ½ ounce equivalents of protein foods, such as meat, fish, nuts and beans each day. Try to eat 2 servings of fish per week (evidence suggests it can decrease your risk for heart disease!) Try and decrease your intake of processed red meat and poultry like hot dogs, lunchmeat, and sausage. Try going meatless once a week to incorporate vegetarian sources of protein into your diet, such as beans, tofu, eggs and nuts.

Now, try this healthy recipe to get you started!

Almond Crusted Salmon 

This recipe is high in healthy polyunsaturated fats from the salmon and almond meal!  In addition, sodium-free seasonings like dried dill and onion powder are used in place of salt in order to decrease the amount of sodium in this dish. Enjoy!

Serves 4


  • ¼ cup almond meal
  • ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
  • ½ teaspoon dried dill
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • 4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets, about 1-inch thick
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Cooking spray


  1. Combine almond meal, bread crumbs, onion powder, and dried dill in a shallow dish and set aside.
  2. Brush lemon juice and olive oil on tops and sides of fillets. Season to taste with black pepper.
  3. Coat the top and sides of each fillet in almond mixture; place skin side down on pan coated with cooking spray.
  4. Bake at 500° for 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s