What Are the Dietary Guidelines?

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by different nutrition facts, and are wondering what you should actually be eating? If you remember the food pyramid, you also probably remember that it was stated to be a validated guideline of how to eat. Unfortunately, the food pyramid has become outdated, and inaccurate in determining the healthiest dietary guidelines for an average American. Fortunately, public health and nutritional research has come far since then, constructing concrete, comprehensive guidelines on what to eat.  

Every five years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture creates a report containing nutritional and dietary guidelines for the general public. In order to encourage healthy eating among the general populace, there are five overarching emphases : 1) healthy eating patterns across one’s lifespan, 2) a focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount, 3) limit calories from added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium, 4) shift to healthier food and beverage choices, and 5) support a healthy eating plan for all. This healthy eating pattern encourages a variety of vegetables from all subgroups: whole fruits, grains, fat-free, low dairy, and protein foods. Unique to other diet plans, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines emphasize a social aspect of eating as well as an economic understanding, as it considers the socioeconomic status of the majority of Americans. It also places caloric limits on unhealthy foods, such as added sugars, to help the diet be achieved. The USDA has a healthy eating index in order to assess how foods align with the guidelines.

Another type of guidelines, the Healthy Eating Plate and Healthy Eating Pyramid, was created by Harvard Public Health. This diet addresses deficiencies in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dairy is eliminated and healthy oils, such as olive oil and canola oil, are added. Fruits make up 1/8th and a variety of vegetables make up 3/8th ‘s. An emphasis is placed on diet quality- the type of vegetable rather than the amount. The Healthy Eating Plate also does not define a certain number of calories or servings per food group, which works better for some people. Additionally, an alternative healthy eating index was created with eleven components so that users can have a reference.

The Tufts MyPlate dietary guidelines were built for older adults and varies from the previous guidelines. It involves your diet being half fruits, vegetables, oils, herbs, and spices (to counteract salt intake). Like the USDA and Healthy Eating Plate, Tufts MyPlate has 1/4th grains included. There is a very small amount of dairy (1/16th) and the remainder is protein. If you are an older adult, it is recommended that you follow these guidelines. 

The Loma Linda Vegetarian food pyramid is unique to all other diets because it acknowledges vegetarian diets. A variety of plant foods is suggested because of the large micronutrient content. Iron is available in spinach, kidney beans, lentils, and whole-wheat bread- the guidelines also suggest foods high in vitamin C to increase iron absorption. Calcium is found in leafy green vegetables, broccoli, almonds, and carrots. A vitamin lacking in this diet is B12, which is only found in animal products. However, the Loma Linda Vegetarian food pyramid accounts for this by advising B12 supplements. The guidelines place an emphasis on unrefined foods and a healthy range of fat intake. Like all the other guidelines, Loma Linda encourages adequate water and fluids and discourages sugary drinks. The diet also emphasizes physical activity. The benefits of plant-based diets are great, however people struggle in knowing what to eat. This caused the creation of the vegetarian food pyramid. The Loma Linda Vegetarian food pyramid can work for you if you are a vegetarian, or trying to be one!

All four of the diets provided excellent guidelines for American food consumption. The USDA accounted for the general public, and Harvard Public Health’s was quite similar with small changes, such as the elimination of dairy and an emphasis on good oils. Tuft’s MyPlate was also similar to the USDA’s with seemingly less dairy as well. The Loma Linda Vegetarian diet was quite unlike the others because of its lack of dairy and meat as a source of protein. However, with its suggestions for vitamins, the guidelines allowed a high nutrient intake. Whatever guidelines you decide to choose, you will be getting all the nutrients you need to have a healthy, low-risk life!







Abigail Jawahar