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Study: Americans still eat too much and pick the wrong foods | Gustafson
On average, Americans have become more health-conscious in recent years. Fewer of us smoke and more engage in regular exercise, although perhaps still not enough.
But when it comes to our eating habits, unfortunately not much has changed, despite enormous efforts to raise greater awareness of the obesity crisis and its dismal effects on people's health.
While the overall health status has not dramatically deteriorated – in 2010, 65 percent of Americans reported being in good or excellent health, compared to 68.5 percent in 1997 – the number of those struggling with weight problems remains at an all-time high.
In its annual "report card" on the state of America's physical health, the Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, found that most Americans are still a far cry from the path to healthy living.
"This isn't a report card you'd want to post on the fridge," writes Bonnie Liebman, a nutritionist working at the CSPI and author of the report.
She especially laments the fact that fruits and vegetables still don't fill American lunch- and dinner plates in quantities recommended by the government. Instead, highly caloric and fatty items like processed foods, meats and dairy products still dominate our meals, both when eating out and at home. More importantly, portion sizes, although well known as a leading factor in our national weight-gain malaise, don't budge, and we are consuming on average 450 calories more per day than we did in 1970, according to the report.
"One way to see the bigger picture is to look at where our calories come from," Liebman writes. Americans have gone from eating an estimated 2,075 calories a day in 1970 to scarfing down 2,535 calories in 2010. From 2000 to 2007 we were as high as 2,600 calories a day."
The increasing quantities, however, are not the only problem. We are also eating the wrong kind of foods, like dairy and refined grains. Cheese, in particular, is nearly ubiquitous in many families' meal plans, including popular items like pizza, burritos, nachos, quesadillas, and on burgers.
Even supposedly healthy choices like salads are routinely laden with dressings, toppings and add-ons that quickly undo the best of intentions to slim things down.
A food group that hasn't received enough attention so far is grains. Baked goods like breads, pastries and cookies, but also cereal, pasta, rice, crackers, granola bars, pizza, burritos and wraps are all "going gangbusters," says Liebman. The average American consumes well over 100 pounds of flour every year – and it shows up in people's ever-expanding waistlines.
Switching from refined grains to whole grains, as recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), can have some positive effects, but the bottom line is that we need to get everyone to eat less grains, period, says Liebman.
The by far worst grade (D+) on the "report card" was given to sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, well-known culprits in the battles of the bulges. While there has been a slight decrease in sugar consumption in recent years, the overall use in processed foods and sweetened beverages is still so high that most Americans end up with nearly 80 pounds sugar intake per year.
What should we make of these many bad news? Well, the same thing we did as kids when our grades were disappointing: Try harder. Perhaps next time, we'll do better.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book "The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun"®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, "Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D." (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter, on Facebook, Google+ and on Pinterest.