The Whole Truth: What Americans Really Eat

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on February 13, 2013 · 0 comments

Two researchers at Rutgers, State University of New Jersey attempted to do a comprehensive review of the typical American diet. Their results are both interesting and sad. In a land of abundance with a varied and healthy food supply, most Americans aren’t eating well and far too many are eating too much.

Calories –

You’ve got to love American ingenuity. Over 67% of the U.S. population is overweight, yet women aged 20 to 59 years old reported eating between 1751 and 2028 calories a day, well within the recommended range for this age group. Here’s the catch – underreporting calorie intake is very common, especially for women and most especially for overweight women. What the researchers actually found is that calorie intake has gone up for all women, most notably those in the 20 to 39 year old range who increased their intake by 376 per day. Daily calorie intake has risen for all adults in the U.S. over the last 30 years

Protein –

Ninety-seven percent of Americans over the age of 2 meet their daily need for protein. At first blush this sounds good. But, the majority of our protein sources are from animal foods – meat, poultry and fish – all of which are also high in cholesterol and saturated fat. To our credit, we are eating less red meat and nearly twice as much fish and poultry as we did in the past. We should be shifting to more nonmeat protein sources – beans, soy, nuts, seeds, peas and grains – less fat, no cholesterol and heart-healthy.

Carbohydrate –

We are a carb loving group getting slightly more than half our daily calories from carbs. Women average 43% to 56% of daily calories from carb and men 48% to 55%. Sounds good, but once again there is a hitch. We eat too little fiber and too much sugar. What should we be doing? Eat more whole grain foods, fruits and vegetables, and lay off the soda, sweetened drinks, candy, cookies and other sweet treats. Added sugars, not the healthy sugars naturally found in cereals and fruits, now account for 16% of our total calorie intake. For a person eating 2000 calories a day that equals 320 calories from sugar which contains no vitamins, minerals, or health-promoting phytochemicals. In the U.S. by age 5 we are already drinking more soda than 100% fruit juice; by age 13, soda wins out over both juice and milk.

Fat –

We are making progress in this area. We average 33% of our daily calories from fat which falls near the upper range of the recommendation of 20% to 35%. Most experts today agree it isn’t the amount of fat you eat but the type of fat that causes health problems. We still eat too much saturated fat. We need to avoid trans fat. Many manufacturers have reformulated foods to lower or eliminate trans fat. This is helping.

Vitamins and minerals –

Forty percent of Americans still don’t get enough vitamin C each day. Smokers are an at-risk group. They need more vitamin C because their bodies use more to compensate for the oxidative stress of smoking.

Fortification of grains with folic acid has brought Americans closer to the recommended daily level. We still don’t eat enough leafy green vegetables, the primary source of this vitamin, but the fortification of grains and folic acid-rich foods like orange juice are helping.

Men tend to eat more meat than women, and women menstruate monthly, so women of childbearing age in the U.S. still fall short when it comes to iron.

No one gets enough calcium, with females 9 to 18 years old consuming less than two-thirds of their daily need. Women 19 and older don’t do much better. These ages are critical for bone building and may result in greater bone loss as women age

Sodium is an essential mineral, but too much can be harmful and may lead to high blood pressure. Over 97% of Americans get too much sodium daily. Out of the top 10 foods ordered from restaurants, the top 3 – hamburgers, French fries, and pizza – are very high in sodium.

The American food supply is varied, abundant and economically within the reach of most Americans. We aren’t making the best use of a great resource.






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