Does The Average American Have A Healthy Diet?
So what do you think? “Does the average American have a healthy diet?”
Truth is there are valid arguments to be made for both sides.
If you’re looking for an immediate Yes or No response then this isn’t quite the post.
However by the time you’re done reading you should be able to answer that question for yourself.
My goal with this post is to show you some perspective as to what the average American diet looks like and at the end I want you to answer the following question – “Do YOU have a healthy diet?”
I’ll show you a few different stats along with some references and I ultimately want you to compare them to your eating habits.
Why am I doing it this way?
Because even though it’s important for us to get an idea of what’s going on in the society around us, what matters most is if you are doing things the right way.
If you are unaware of what you may be doing wrong you may never change your own eating habits.
You may believe the American diet is horrible but if you are doing the same things as everyone else then how do you spark a change?
If you think everything is all good then why not lead others by example and maybe help dispel certain stigmas.
My point is there is plenty of argument to be made but it ultimately comes down to who you talk to.
All those arguments are for another day.
Today I want you to compare your diet to the “average American diet” to see if you’re already on a healthy track or if there’s room for improvement.
If that’s got you psyched up enough then read on.
I want you to know I did my best to exclude my personal opinion and bias from this as much as possible.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t instances where I do try to express myself if it reinforces a particular point.
Also this isn’t intended to make you feel guilty about yourself or point fingers at anyone.
If anything I’m hoping this just makes you a lot more conscious and aware of what you eat.
The Average American? What Does That Even Mean?
When I decided I was going to write on this topic I tried searching for some kind of definition of “the average American” and I really wasn’t surprised there’s no sort of true definition.
I think most people have created their own avatar of what the average American looks like but those ideas may obviously differ from person to person.
Most of the articles I found on the subject were geared towards the average American salary or income.
I did however find 2 articles that came close to what I was looking for in a definition:
I encourage you to check out both posts. They’re interesting and are a relatively quick read.
I believe the reason why it’s so tough to come up with a single definition is there are too many variables and factors at play.
Given the huge number of people in the U.S., it is practically impossible to nail it down to a single set of traits.
There are some areas though where you can find some common ground and that’s what I’ll use to come up with my own sort of definition here.
This is what comes to mind when I think of the average American:
- Someone in the late 20s to maybe early 40s.
- Works a full-time job.
- Likely married and/or has a family to take care of.
- Sociable in some capacity.
That’s my own (very) simple definition of what the average American looks like.
I know it’s far from a perfect one but it gives us some kind of foundation to work with and compare to.
The best definition remains the person that is staring back at you when you look in the mirror.
Like I said at the beginning, this shouldn’t be necessarily about what others do but what you do.
American Eating Habits Compared To Other Countries
The U.S. culture is one that’s constantly on the move.
Your typical schedule is loaded with some many errands and activities you need to accomplish with the least of them being meal prep.
It’s so much easier to pick something up from the drive-through or just have your food delivered straight to you.
I’m guilty of both so again no judgement here.
The point I’m trying to make is even though we do understand the importance of eating healthy, for one reason or another it still isn’t a top priority.
Some of the world’s healthiest cuisines in no particular order are:
- South Korean
There are 2 key differences between all of those countries and the U.S. – Emphasis on Whole (Organic) Foods and Portion-size Control.
Every single one of those cuisines focuses more on natural homegrown food products and fresh cooked meals.
In the U.S. organic food products are typically more expensive.
When you consider what the average American salary is and the fact that most people have a family to take care of, it becomes difficult to live on a primarily whole foods diet.
It is also no secret that the American diet is way more hyper-inflated than any of the countries on that list.
Portion control seems to be reserved only for those that want to stay fit. (technically that should be everyone)
Another thing worth noting is that most of those countries value their meals.
They dedicate ample time to prepare the food and actually sit down to eat.
By contrast 20% of all American meals are eaten in a car!
Those other cuisines should serve as a source of inspiration for you to improve your diet if that isn’t the case already.
Our food industry will remain the way it is for a long time and we know their primary concern is sales and not necessarily the need to make better food options.
But that’s a topic for another day.
You need to realize that it is up to you to make healthier food choices.
Don’t leave that decision to someone else.
What Does The Average American Diet Consist Of?
It’s no secret that many people consider a majority of the American diet to be unhealthy.
If that wasn’t true nobody would be asking questions.
Here are a few alarming statistics from Health.gov about the current eating habits in the United States.
- 3/4 of the U.S. population consumes very little fruits, vegetables or healthy dairy.
- More than half the population exceeds the total grain and protein recommendations.
- Most Americans exceed the recommendations for added sugars, saturated fats and sodium (salt).
- More than two-thirds of adults and one-third of all children in the U.S are either overweight or obese.
To put things into more perspective, we refer to our diet as S.A.D – short for Standard American Diet.
Yes it is a little bit more exaggerated for emphasis but that acronym should give you an idea of the kinds of foods we consume.
Almost every poll that has been conducted has the U.S. as one of the (if not the) highest countries with the most amount of calorie intake.
Sad to hear but it’s true.
The typical American diet consists of an abundance of 3 main items:
- Lots of meaty foods.
- Processed and Pre-packaged foods (close to 70% of the U.S. diet consists of processed foods).
- Carbonated and High sugar drinks (The average American consumes about 3 lbs of sugar per week).
The next time you’re in a public area, look around you and see how many times you can check off each one.
We have a diet dominated by fatty foods in excess and less reliance on vegetables or other healthy options.
Average American Diet Statistics
Evidence points to the fact that many Americans are unhealthy.
Some of the stats are really depressing but sometimes it is necessary to look at this stuff to see how you can improve or help someone else.
Personally I look at these nutritional stats as eye-openers for all of us to get better.
1 – At least 1 in 4 people eat some type of fat food every single day.
2 – Vegetables and fruit are almost non-existent. According to the CDC, only 1 in 10 adults meet the federal fruit or vegetable recommendations.
3 – Americans consume more processed food than organic or whole foods. About 61% of the food purchased is highly processed.
4 – The average American consumes way over 3500 calories per day. **The recommended daily average in the U.S. is 2500 for men and 2000 for women.
5 – About 90% of Americans eat more sodium than is recommended. The AHA recommends no more than 2300mg/day and ideally a limit of 1500mg for most adults.
6 – The average American diet is far from being a balanced diet primarily due to excess unhealthy food consumption.
If I go on to include other facts about obesity, physical activity and diet related illnesses, the entire thing can be really saddening.
They’re all still things we need to be aware of regardless.
Most people may know their diet needs to improve but they rarely take the time to understand why.
Think about this for a second, “How healthy is your diet if it really isn’t a balanced one?”
This leads me to another question…
...What does the average American eat in a day?
Here’s a short list of some of the most popular foods in the U.S. :
- Baked goods
Outside of those four, it really depends on where you live (or are visiting) and who you talk to.
This is another one of those lists that’s tough to compile because there are just way too many cities and people.
However there is a common trait among all the popular food options – We love carbs and fats!
Do you know where a lot of that comes from?
If you guessed ultra processed food then you are absolutely correct.
Problems with the American Diet
I’m not going to beat a dead horse here.
We’ve already seen enough evidence to the fact that there is room for improvement in the American diet.
When you take a look at the overall picture it shouldn’t come as a surprise that our diet plays a key role in the high obesity numbers and increased risk of disease.
I only bring up this section again to transition to the fact that there are certain good things about the American diet.
They may seem insignificant but they’re definitely helpful.
Good things about the American Diet
If you choose to put in a little effort, you’ll find that there are ways to improve your diet as it is.
By your diet I’m referring to what is predominantly available.
1 - The Food is Regulated
Government agencies such as the FDA, FSIS, CDC and so on help ensure the food we eat is safe enough.
There are obviously arguments that could be made about how safe the food really is and the gaps in the law but the alternative is worse.
2 - Increasing Awareness
More and more people are beginning to pay attention to what they eat.
How do I know this?
Because you’re here and you’re reading this.
Even if it may not be the healthiest of food options, some people are actually doing their best to eat better.
There are also organizations out there that are help with some of this awareness.
Are we where we want to be?
Not quite yet but remember awareness and improvement begins with you.
3 - Diversity
An increasing number of stores are including healthier options as part of their staple of products.
The only reason this is happening is because there is a demand for it.
Your options are far from being limited and you can definitely pick healthy substitutes.
4 - The American Diet is Improving
The USDA uses the Healthy Eating Index to assess diet quality and how consistent the diet is with the Recommended Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Points range from 0 – 100 with 100 being the best possible score.
As of today (2019) the current American score is 59.
The goal is to get a higher score but it’s still a stark contrast from what it used to be in the 90s.
So I have to ask you again, "Does the average American have a healthy diet?"
I’m sure by now you already have an answer in mind.
But that’s not the answer I’m looking for.
What I’m really asking is “Do you consider your diet to be a healthy one?”
Give yourself an honest answer.
How you feel about others is completely different from personal perspective.
It’s easy to point the finger at someone else without realizing that you too may be doing the same wrong thing.
They statistics are what they are but the story those stats also tell is that there is a high probability that you too may be eating unhealthy even if you don’t realize it just yet.
I don’t know what the answer is for you and I am certainly in no position to point a finger at you or anyone else.
Like I mentioned at the beginning your most important takeaway should be what you’re doing about your own diet.
A self examination of sorts if you want to call it that.
Are you doing some of the same things?
Or do you find yourself already working on getting better?
Are you already on a healthy diet?
Whatever answer you come up with is yours just be honest with yourself.
If you do feel like there’s room for improvement and want to eat healthier then I’ve got some suggestions below to help you on that journey.
6 Ways to Improve Your Eating Habits and Create A Healthy Diet Plan
1 - Transition Slowly
Eating healthier begins with the realization that you could do better.
Whether you’re trying to lose weight or maybe by recommendation from your healthcare provider, however you come about it you need to actually be aware of why you’re doing it.
When you understand why then you can begin to work on the commitment to actually improve your diet.
The transition isn’t as easy as it sounds though. At least not for most.
It’s tough to switch from a diet you’ve been used to for probably your entire lifetime to something completely new immediately.
If you lack the willpower it’ll feel almost impossible.
The better way to go about it is by allowing yourself to transition slowly.
Maybe begin with one meal a day and see how that goes.
As you continue to get the hang of things you’ll eventually build a new routine for yourself and then you can tack on more meals as time goes by.
It’s a marathon not a race.
2 - Avoid Highly (Ultra) Processed Sugary Foods
Not much explanation is needed here.
Highly processed foods aren’t good for you in the long run.
They’re tough to avoid because they’re everywhere and easily accessible so you really need to make conscious decision to avoid them.
Pick out healthier substitutes – whole grains, veggies, fresh produce, etc.
3 - Live & Eat Healthier Within Your Means
I get that living on a predominantly whole foods or organic diet is expensive and really isn’t practical for everyone.
However you can still eat healthier within your means.
Don’t try to jump onto a new meal plan simply because others are raving about it only to find out later on down the road that it isn’t sustainable.
There are little changes you can make right now without breaking the bank.
4 - Eat Appropriate Portion Sizes
Speaking of little improvements, cutting down on how much you eat is an excellent way to begin.
This doesn’t mean you need to starve yourself.
Portion control refers to things like eating more vegetables, drinking more water, avoiding mindless snacks, using smaller dishes, and so on.
There’s a big difference between eating till your satisfied vs stuffing yourself.
5 - Be Knowledgeable
Sometimes just cutting down isn’t enough.
You need to take some time to understand the complexity of the foods you eat.
What exactly are you putting in your body?
You’d be amazed at what you’re really eating when you start paying attention.
6 - Shop Smart
First things first avoid going to the store when you’re hungry.
Okay maybe that was just a reminder for myself but I’m sure you know that’s never a good idea.
The key to shopping smarter and healthier is to prepare yourself ahead of time and plan for success.
Create a shopping list and try to stick to it as much as possible, pick up some greens, go for lean and low-fat options and so on.
If you shop healthier, you’ll eat healthier.
7 - Exercise
Last but definitely not least is exercise.
I have to include this here because I cannot overstress the importance of exercise for an overall healthy lifestyle.
The combination of exercise and a healthy diet will lead to nothing but positive effects for you.
The benefits are numerous.
Weight loss, heart disease prevention, improved energy levels, better sleep quality, more happiness and many, many more to list.
If you can, I encourage you to make exercise an essential part of your daily or maybe weekly routine.
What your fellow average American does isn’t more important than what you do as a person.
Focus on your diet first then do you best to help others improve as well.
The best advice I can give you today is to always consult with your Doctor or primary care provider to develop a plan that works for you.
It will be well worth it in the end.
Eating healthy begins with you and your determination to do so.
I’d really love to get your opinion on the subject. Please feel free to share in the comments section below.