Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Skip to main content

Understanding the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans & Heart Health

The release of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) has generated a lot of interest. The DGA are used to develop federal food, nutrition, and health policies and programs as well as education materials for schools, colleges, businesses, community groups, media, and the food industry. The DGA are updated every 5 years under the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act. These updates are based on the most recent medical and scientific research and are developed by the US Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA). The DGA are developed for Americans who are 2 years old and older.

The DGA guidelines no longer strongly focus on individual nutrients to consume or avoid but recommend healthy eating patterns that meet an individual’s personal and cultural food preferences. Food choices should enhance health as well as reduce the risk of chronic disease. The three healthy eating patterns described are: the Healthy U.S.-style Eating Pattern; The Healthy Mediterranean- Eating Pattern; and The Healthy Vegetarian Eating Pattern. These may be accessed at

The committee’s scientific report defines a healthy diet to be high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low fat and nonfat dairy seafood, legumes, and nuts while lower in red and processed meats. The recommendation also includes a eating pattern that is low in sugar sweetened foods and beverages as well as refined grains, Refined grains include white flour, bread, rice, pasta, crackers, and cereal.

The vegetable and fruit group has been defined as helping to prevent heart disease, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, stroke, and some cancers. The five vegetable subgroups we should consume are the dark green, red and orange, legumes, starchy and other. These include fresh, lower sodium frozen, low sodium canned, dried, and vegetable juices. Choices over a week should include many different vegetables. Vegetables should be prepared with limited additions such as salt, butter, or creamy sauces. Legumes include pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, white beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lima beans (mature, dried), split peas, lentils, and edamame (green soybeans). The fruits food group includes whole fruits and 100% fruit juice. Whole fruits include fresh, canned, frozen, and dried forms. Choose canned fruits that are low in sugar and 100% fruit juice with no added sugars.

The recommendations include to limit the intake of refined grains and foods made with refined grains which are often high in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. At least one half of grains consumed should be 100% whole grains. By looking at the package ingredient list a whole grain should be the first or second ingredient, after water. If a food contains multiple whole grains they should be listed at the beginning of the ingredient list. Eating a fiber rich diet with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and lentils allows the fiber to bind to dietary cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract and prevents the cholesterol from being absorbed into the blood.

The recommendations include a variety of protein foods from both animal and plant sources. These include seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, soy products, beans, and peas, and non- fat dairy. There is strong evidence from mostly prospective cohort studies that adults who include lower intakes of meat, processed meat and processed poultry are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and moderate evidence for a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some cancers. Although the DGA’s have dropped their guidelines on dietary cholesterol they still suggest limiting intake of saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats should be limited to 10% of total calories and trans fats from processed foods avoided due to strong evidence that intake increases CVD risk as well as contributes to high blood cholesterol levels. Eggs and shellfish are high in cholesterol and low in saturated fat while other animal proteins contain both fats. The bottom line Eat less meat. Choose lean protein from healthy sources, such as seafood, soy, seeds, beans, legumes, and tofu.

DGA Key Points:

  • Limit sugar, Added sugar should comprise less than 10% of your calories each day.
  • Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables of various subgroups.
  • Make half of your grains whole grains. Limit the intake of refined grains.
  • Limit intake of trans fats to as low as possible by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fats.
  • Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages. Eggs can be a part of your diet.
  • Limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day for adults and children ages 14 years and older.
  • Choose healthy beverages, including water. Limit alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverages. Up to 3 to 5 eight ounce cups of coffee per day unless planning to become or are pregnant or nursing.
  • Be active. Adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week

The 2015-2020 DGA’s are a great starting place to make gradual changes to eat healthier and reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. For more information please go to or plan an individualized consult with a registered dietitian.

Always consult with your Physician or health care provider before making any dietary/nutrition changes or commencing or changing your physical activity.

Beebe Dietitians available

Beebe Healthcare has Registered Dietitians (RD) available for consultation to provide patient education and medical nutrition therapy. An RD is available through Diabetes Management and Medical Nutrition Therapy with referral from a primary care provider, other licensed provider or specialist. The telephone number is (302) 947-2500. Patients at Tunnell Cancer Center have access to a Registered Dietitian, as well. Students at Cape Henlopen High School, Indian River High School and Sussex Central High School can also see a Beebe Healthcare Registered Dietitian through their Wellness Centers.

Debra Dobies, MA, RD, LDN, is Beebe Healthcare's Ornish Reversal Program Registered Dietitian and Medical Nutrition Therapist. Beebe Healthcare's Ornish Reversal Program is now open in the Beebe Medical Arts Building at the Rehoboth Beach Health Campus. For more information, go to