2020 Dietary Guidelines: Which nutrients aren’t Americans getting enough of?

Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 23 No. 8
Volume 23
Issue 8

Diving into the most important findings of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s 2020 Scientific Report.

2020 Dietary Guidelines: Which nutrients aren’t Americans getting enough of?

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The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has released its 2020 Scientific Report, which will inform the development of the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The new report identifies a variety of nutritional deficiencies in the current average American diet, as well as deficiencies among special populations like pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants under the age of two, and adults aged 65 and older.

For large numbers of Americans, it seems that diet alone may not be a sufficient source of important nutrients. Here are some of the nutrients that Americans aren’t getting enough of—and some of the biggest opportunities for supplements to potentially fill the gap.

Diet Alone Insufficient for Vitamin D Needs

The 2020 Scientific Report illustrates a significant challenge in meeting Americans’ vitamin D needs. Haiuyen Nguyen, senior director of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN; Washington, DC), says the report highlights how deficient in vitamin D the average American diet is.

“Vitamin D inadequacy is associated with osteoporosis, but vitamin D isn’t available in many of the foods Americans eat,” Nguyen says. “Even with a healthy diet, it may be difficult to get vitamin D in recommended amounts, and supplementation may be advisable.”

Nguyen says the report highlights how American diets are often too high in calories and too low in essential nutrients like calcium, potassium, and dietary fiber. The report also notes that among youth (particularly children aged 2 to 5) there is a downward trend in consumption of dairy foods, which are a significant source of vitamin D. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommends this trend should be monitored.

Iron Takes Center Stage for Prenatal Nutrition

Prenatal, postnatal, and maternal nutrition receive a special focus in the 2020 report. While the Dietary Guidelines address every life stage, further attention has been given to life stages that have high nutritional needs. Nguyen says this focus came at the urging of the Council for Responsible Nutrition.

“CRN submitted comments recommending that the Dietary Guidelines highlight special nutrient concerns that exist at every life stage and provide strategies to address those concerns, including appropriate use of dietary supplements,” Nguyen notes. “CRN also recommended that the Dietary Guidelines advise pregnant and lactating women to follow guidance from a healthcare practitioner” when using supplements to meet nutritional needs not met by food.

The 2020 report highlights a number of opportunities for supplement brands to serve pregnant and lactating women. Nguyen says that 95% of pregnant women fail to meet the recommended daily intake of iron without supplements, for instance, and therefore iron is a nutrient of public health concern for women of childbearing age.

Most Age Groups Are Choline Deficient

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee also highlight choline as an under-consumed nutrient among multiple groups of Americans. Tom Druke, marketing director, human nutrition and health, for Balchem (New Hampton, NY), said in a July 20 press release that while the committee’s past reports have served as a broad analysis of adult Americans, the 2020 report gave special attention to infants, toddlers, and pregnant or breastfeeding women.

“Those three categories of people are most in need of choline,” Druke said in the press release, “which explains why choline received significant attention throughout. As the body of research into choline continues to grow, particularly the critical role it plays in fetal brain development and cognitive function in infants and toddlers, having this comprehensive report identify choline as under-consumed by this exact population constitutes a call-to-action.”

While the report notes that most adults do not consume enough choline through diet, choline deficiency does not appear to pose a public health concern among most adults. The greatest opportunity for choline supplementation, then, is among infants, toddlers, and pregnant and lactating women.

One 2016 quantitative analysis found that of the top 25 prenatal vitamins on the market, only eight contained choline, and none of those prenatal vitamins contained more than 60 mg of choline per dose. The 2020 report notes that choline is an underconsumed nutrient among lactating women and that choline is one of four nutrient needs that are not expected to be met through diet alone.

Supplements Can Close the Nutrition Gap

The 2020 Scientific Report issued by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee notes that Americans of various demographics are experiencing several nutritional deficiencies, and that “nutrition-related chronic health conditions are common across every life stage” among Americans. The report notes that 41% of children under age 19, and 71% of adults over age 19, are overweight or obese. Eight-one percent of Americans consume less than the recommended daily intake of fruit, 90% of Americans consume less than the recommended daily intake of vegetables, and 88% of Americans consume less than the recommended daily intake of dairy. Meanwhile, the top five contributors to caloric intake among the general population are burgers, desserts, pasta, sugary drinks, and savory snacks.

While dietary changes can help many Americans meet the recommended daily intake of essential nutrients, the report also highlights several nutritional deficiencies that diet alone cannot solve. Choline, iron, and vitamin D deficiencies are prevalent among pregnant and lactating women, and the general population is experiencing shortfalls in calcium, potassium, and dietary fiber. Nguyen says that supplements can help all Americans meet essential nutritional needs when food sources alone are insufficient. Thus, helping Americans to correct these deficiencies should become a special priority for supplement brands.

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