January 08, 2021

New U.S. Dietary Guidelines offer roadmap for healthful eating

Restaurants can modify their menus to offer more of what the Dietary Guidelines recommend: vegetables, whole grains, and nutrient-dense proteins.

The federal government, on releasing the new 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, cited the progress the restaurant and foodservice industries have made on menu labeling, recipe reformulation, and food innovation to help improve public health.

“As the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines revealed over the past few decades … menus have evolved substantially in response to consumer demand and public health concerns,” said Association nutrition consultant Maggie Gentile, MS, RD, LD.

The Guidelines, released Dec. 29 by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services will recommend what Americans should eat during the next five years.

"The science tells us that good nutrition leads to better health outcomes, and the new Dietary Guidelines use the best available evidence to give Americans the information they need to make healthy decisions for themselves and their families," says HHS Secretary Alex Azar, in a statement.

The new guidelines are similar to the 2015-2020 Guidelines, but they do reflect four overarching themes.

  1. Follow a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage.
  2. Actively customize meals to enjoy nutrient-dense food and beverage choices that are healthier (e.g., asking for smaller portions, replacing sides with fruit and vegetables, etc.), and choices that reflect personal preferences, cultural traditions, and fit within budgetary considerations.
  3. Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages and stay within calorie limits.
  4. Limit intake of foods and beverages that are higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverage consumption.

Key recommendations supporting the four overarching guidelines include the following:

  • Limit added sugars to less than 10% of calories per day for children ages 2 and older and avoid added sugars in foods and beverages for infants and toddlers.
  • Limit saturated fat to less than 10% of calories per day starting at age 2.
  • Limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day—or even less if younger than 14.
  • Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages to two drinks or less per day for men and one drink or less per day for women.

What can restaurants do to continue supporting Americans in maintaining healthful diets? Gentile offers four suggestions:

  1. Add nutrient-dense ingredients and consider recipe reformulation: Modify menus by offering more of what the Dietary Guidelines recommend such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat and fat-free dairy, and a greater variety of proteins that are nutrient dense. Evaluate and consider reducing sodium and added sugar.
  2. Focus on customization options to meet guest needs including smaller portion sizes: The Dietary Guidelines promote three dietary patterns including Healthy US (nutrient dense in appropriate amounts), Mediterranean, and Healthy Vegetarian. Consider a variety of options that meet the diets of your customers. Consider offering half portions to help individuals make choices that better fit within their calorie needs, offer to split orders, and allow customization (dressing on the side, no salt added, hold the bun, fruits or vegetables in place of high-fat sides, etc.)
  3. Prioritize kids: Consider participation in the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program—a voluntary initiative where restaurants commit to offer meals, side dishes and beverages that meet rigorous nutrition criteria. These meals are certified to have thresholds on sugar, sodium, and calories, and are designed to make parents and children happy.
  4. Educate: Menu labeling, sharing calorie and nutrition information, equips guests to make healthier food choices. Consider using signage and other communication tools to educate guests about available better-for-you options.