The 2020-2025 Nutrition Guidelines: What You Need to Know
February 11, 2021 / Employee Wellbeing Best Practices
The average American diet is flawed. The United States, along with many other modern countries across the globe, are experiencing a paradox of individuals who are overfed yet undernourished. We rely heavily on processed, packaged, quick and easy, non-nutritious food to quell our appetites, and it’s having an obvious negative impact on our overall health and wellbeing. More than 60% of the U.S. adult population has at least one chronic disease and 40% have two or more. What’s worse is that these chronic conditions, which are largely preventable through a healthy lifestyle, are leaving us more susceptible to poor health outcomes and – most recently – complications, hospitalizations and death related to COVID-19. The need for change is urgent.
Every five years, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are revised by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and it’s fitting that a new set of guidelines would be released in a year where our worst lifestyle habits emerged and the true impact of chronic disease were made clear.
While these guidelines are written with health professionals and policymakers in mind, it’s more important than ever for individuals to learn more about the health risks adults are facing as a result of how we’re consuming food, what constitutes a healthy diet and why these things matter. Furthermore, as a trusted source of information, employers should look to educate the members of their workforce on these guidelines and empower them to make lifestyle changes that result in improved health outcomes. After all, healthy employees are a crucial part of a thriving business.
Eat Your Vegetables
The processed, grab-and-go American diet that so many of us relied on in our on-the-go, pre-COVID lifestyle left many of us falling far below the recommended daily servings of fresh fruits and vegetables. Although the pandemic and resulting stay-at-home orders forced most people to slow down and change their daily routine, our diets didn’t improve. If anything, our reliance on unhealthy foods got worse. Despite learning that conditions like diabetes, obesity and heart disease increased risks associated with COVID-19, sugary, fatty, highly processed foods saw a 30% increase in purchase and consumption in the United States in 2020.1
In order to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle, it’s recommended that 85% of our daily food intake consist of non-processed, nutrient-dense items like fresh or frozen produce, whole grains, lean proteins, dairy and legumes. As a country, we’re far from that daily goal. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, points out that 90% of Americans do not consume the recommended daily servings of vegetables, yet more than 50% of the U.S. population meet or exceed their daily intake of grains (most of which are refined) and protein (most of which are high-fat meats rather than lean, heart-healthy options like seafood or lentils).
Life is Sweet Enough Without the Added Sugar
It’s not just what’s on your plate that matters, it’s what’s in your glass. The consumption of sugar in the United States is a major issue, contributing to an additional 266 calories per day on average, with the top source of sugar intake coming from sweetened beverages. Sustaining that for a year equates to 97,090 non-nutritious calories.
When you consider that nearly three in four American adults are overweight or obese,2 we can’t afford to take in 97,090 additional empty calories each year. Help your employees reduce their liquid sugar intake and stay hydrated by offer suggestions to improve the palatability of water, such as sparkling water or fruit-infused water. Successfully switching from sugar-laden soda and juice is a great first step to a healthier lifestyle.
Spice Up Your Life & Tone Down the Salt
Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, can lead to serious health complications like heart attacks, stroke and kidney disease.3 Oftentimes hypertension is the result of years of unhealthy lifestyle behaviors like avoiding regular physical activity and poor dietary choices, as well as the presence of other chronic health conditions like diabetes and obesity. Currently, 45% of American adults are living with high blood pressure.
Fortunately, high blood pressure can be prevented or managed by engaging in healthy habits like exercising at least 150 minutes each week, living tobacco-free and eating a nutritious diet that limits sodium intake. According to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, daily sodium intake should not exceed 2,300mg, yet despite the fact that reducing salt intake can help curtail the risk of developing hypertension, adults are consuming an average of 3,393mg (sometimes up to 5,000mg) each day.
Limiting sodium intake may not be as difficult as it sounds. Most of the salt we ingest daily comes from commercially prepared and highly processed foods. By avoiding fast food, prepackaged foods and frequent restaurant meals, your people can easily reduce their salt intake while increasing the nutritional quality of their meals and snacks. Help your employees get their blood pressure under control by encouraging them to prepare their meals themselves at home and relying on herbs and spices for added flavor.
Looking Beyond the Kitchen
Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is easier to achieve when it’s a part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. What we eat is just one piece of a much larger health puzzle. To achieve true wellbeing, employees also need to exercise regularly, take steps to reduce stress and protect their mental health.
Supporting the holistic wellbeing of your workforce doesn’t have to be complicated. With a smart, robust digital wellbeing program that learns and caters to the wellness needs of each employee, your organization can meet your people where they’re at and start improving their health. At Virgin Pulse, our Homebase for Health™ vision makes it easier for people to understand and take action towards their personal goals, with customizable add-ons like on-demand health coaching and live services, digital therapeutics for prediabetes and weight management to put at-risk employees on a path to better health, benefits navigation and integrated partner services in areas like fitness, nutrition, mindfulness and more.