The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released updated dietary guidelines last month.

“Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025” is the latest edition since the one that was issued in 2015.

While the new report, which provides guidance on which foods and beverages can be chosen to create a healthy diet, does build on and evolve from prior guidelines, some overarching guidance remains the same.

At the 2,000-calorie level, the guidelines for a healthy U.S.-style dietary pattern continue to recommend 2½ cup-equivalents of vegetables a day; 2 cup-equivalents of fruit; 6 ounce-equivalents of grains; 3 cup-equivalents of dairy; 5½ ounce-equivalents of protein foods; and 27 grams of oils.

The guidelines also continue to use MyPlate, which replaced the food pyramid in 2011, as an illustrated guide to healthy dietary patterns.

The MyPlate Plan encourages Americans to make half of their plates fruits and vegetables, with an emphasis on whole fruits and a variety of vegetables. The remainder of the plate is filled with grains — of which half should be whole grains — and varied proteins. MyPlate also encourages a side of dairy and moving to “low-fat or fat-free dairy milk or yogurt (or lactose-free dairy or fortified soy versions),” according to the dietary guidelines.

The 2020 guidelines put a spotlight on healthy dietary patterns, including a breakdown for every life stage: infants and toddlers; children and adolescents; adults; women who are pregnant or lactating; and older adults. These guidelines are the first since the 1985 edition to include “recommendations for for infants and toddlers as well as continuing the emphasis on the healthy dietary patterns during pregnancy and lactation,” the report said.

Other report guidelines include limits on added sugars, saturated fat, sodium and alcoholic beverages; customization of choices to suit preferences, cultural traditions and budgets; and a focus on nutrient-dense foods and beverages and staying within calorie limits.

Many Americans do not display the dietary patterns that are aligned with the dietary guidelines, the report said. Some slight improvements have been seen in diet quality over the last 10 years, according to the report, but average scores on the 2015 Healthy Eating Index, which were best in the age groups ages 2-4 and 60-plus, show continued room for improvement.

The dietary guidelines influence government policy, including for school meal and other nutrition programs.

Dairy-specific recommendations

Under the dietary guidelines, the category of “dairy and fortified soy alternatives” includes all fluid, dry or evaporated milk (including lactose-free, lactose-reduced and fortified soy products); buttermilk, yogurt, kefir, frozen yogurt, dairy desserts and cheeses. The guidelines recommend low-fat and fat-free options.

Sour cream, cream and cream cheese are not included in the category due to low calcium content.

According to the report, fortified soy products are included in the dairy category because of their similarities to milk and yogurt in terms of nutrient composition and use in meals. Other plant-based products marketed as “milks” may include calcium but are not included in the dairy category due to the overall differences in nutritional content.

About 90% of Americans are not meeting the dietary intake goals of dairy products, according to the report. The percent Americans who drink milk on a given day falls drastically as ages increases: 65% of young children do while that falls to 34% among adolescents and 20% among adults.

The report found that “(m)ost individuals would benefit by increasing intake of dairy in fat-free or low-fat forms.”

According the report, most American adults also do not consume enough calcium or vitamin D. Consuming “nutrient-dense, calcium-rich foods,” including but not limited to dairy products, can assist adults in better meeting intake recommendations, the report said.

For children, the amount of dairy foods in a healthy diet goes from 2½ to 3 cups at age 9, according to the guidelines.

Children under age 9 intake approximately the recommended levels of dairy on average, while adolescents’ consumption is typically below recommended levels, according to the report.

Jean Ragalie-Carr, president of the National Dairy Council, said in a statement, “Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt offer essential nutrients that help nourish people throughout life.

“At a time when affordable nutrition has never been more important to our nation, dairy foods, including lactose-free varieties, are a highly nutritious and accessible option that can help fill important nutrient gaps and support overall well-being. We’re pleased to see dairy consumption recommended for its contributions to healthy dietary patterns based on the scientific evidence.”

President and CEO of National Milk Producers Federation Jim Mulhern applauded the dairy recommendations in a statement, saying, “USDA and HHS deserve praise for once again recognizing just how vital dairy is to the nation’s health and well-being.”

Looking forward, NMPF, in its statement, “pledged to continue efforts to broaden considerations of the latest science on dairy fats in the next examination of the federal guidelines.”