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New 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: What Vegetarians Need to Know

A well-planned vegetarian diet is a healthy way to meet your nutritional needs. Find out what you need to know about a plant-based diet.

Summary:

  • New 2020-2025 DGA’s Addressed Nutrition Needs by Lifestage
  • Cultural, Personal, and Budgetary Differences are Encouraged to be Considered in a Healthy Dietary Pattern
  • Vitamin D and Choline are Specific Nutrients of Concern that May Be Lacking In a Vegetarian Diet
  • Iron, Zinc, Iodine, Vitamin B12, Choline, EPA/DHA May Warrant Supplementation in Vegetarian/Vegan Prenatal and Lactation Diets

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA’s) to kick off the new year. These guidelines are updated every five years after leading scientists review the current research and make recommendations to help advance the health and wellness of Americans while addressing nutrient shortfalls and areas for improvement.

Healthy dietary patterns, or the combination of food and beverages Americans eat over a set period of time, continued to be referenced throughout the DGA’s to encourage eating behaviors to promote health and reduce the risk of diet-related chronic disease. The three main dietary patterns that continued to be addressed included: the Healthy U.S.-Style Dietary Pattern, the Healthy Mediterranean-Style Dietary Pattern, and the Healthy Vegetarian Dietary Pattern.

Nutrition Needs Addressed by Life Stages

One of the big differences in these guidelines versus years past was that for the first time healthy dietary patterns, or the combination of food and beverages Americans eat over a set period of time, were addressed by stages of life. Nutrients of special importance from birth through older adulthood were discussed in relation to which played a crucial role for that age group.

While this wasn’t the first time a healthy vegetarian dietary pattern was looked at in the DGA’s, it was the first time that the committee gave specific guidance for vegetarian diets during the prenatal, lactating, and early infancy life stages that require critical nutrients for life-long growth and development.

Amy Gorin, MS RDN, a plant-based registered dietitian and owner of Plant-Based Eats, praised the new DGA’s depiction of the healthy vegetarian dietary pattern, noting it was “very helpful as a guideline for how much of each food group and subgroup vegetarians should consume—for instance, vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, protein, and oil were all addressed.”

Cultural, Personal and Budgetary Preferences Considered In a Healthy Eating Pattern

Another important factor in these new guidelines was that the committee made note to embrace cultural and personal preferences in food choices and budgetary differences that affect many Americans’ access to foods. While the DGA’s still address specific nutrients and amounts to consume, the flexibility for consumers to apply this using their own cultural foods is a big step for more dietary inclusivity. While the food and beverage choices will be unique for each family, one of the main takeaways Gorin notes in establishing healthy eating patterns over time is “including nutrient-rich foods in every meal and eating occasion.”

Specific Nutrients of Concern in a Vegetarian Diet

“A well-planned, variety-filled vegetarian dietary pattern can meet the nutrition needs throughout various life stages to promote growth and development,” says Registered Dietitian Elizabeth Gunner. However, Gunner and Gorin both note given the nature of the current diet status of Americans’, there are specific nutrients vegetarians specifically need to be aware of to appropriately nourish their body, including vitamin D and choline.

Vitamin D

Given that one billion people worldwide have vitamin D deficiency, it’s not surprising that this nutrient is a nutrient of public health concern. But, there are whole food sources vegetarians can incorporate into their diets to help increase their vitamin D intakes naturally, like eggs, fortified foods, and mushrooms. One large egg provides 6% of the daily value of vitamin D and owne cup of fortified soy milk provides nearly 19% of the daily value. While a food first mentality is always encouraged, consult with your healthcare team to see if additional vitamin D supplementation may be warranted as well.

Choline

Research shows that ninety percent of Americans do not consume enough choline. Choline is important for metabolism, cognition, and the growth and development of babies in utero and early infancy. While many animal proteins contain choline, there are still great vegetarian sources to consider. Gorin says to focus on increasing eggs, beans, peas, and lentils to get more choline in.

Iron, Zinc, Vitamin B12, Choline, EPA/DHA May Warrant Supplementation in Vegetarian/Vegan Prenatal and Lactation Diets

The new guidelines did note that specific nutrients commonly found more abundantly in animal proteins, like iron, zinc, vitamin B12, choline, and the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA, may be harder for pregnant and lactating women to receive appropriate intakes of via vegetarian dietary sources to meet their needs. It’s advised that women following a vegetarian dietary pattern during these particular life stages consult directly with a healthcare provider.

To access the full 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines and recommendations, be sure to visit the USDA website at dietaryguidelines.gov.