How Food Affects Our Health

The Standard American Diet

Today many Americans choose convenience over health when it comes to eating. Fast-food restaurants and convenience foods continue to make up a significant, unhealthy portion of our food choices as Americans. Obesity is reaching near epidemic proportions, and the rate of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are continuing to rise as well. The cause? Very simply...the way we eat.  

The Western Pattern Diet (WPD) or Standard American Diet (SAD) is a modern diet most people tend to follow today. It includes high intakes of red meat, processed meat, pre-packaged foods, fried foods, sugar-laden low-fat dairy products, refined grains, potatoes, corn, high-fructose corn syrup, high-sugar drinks, artificial sweeteners, food additives/preservatives. Up until the Industrial Revolution, there really was no such thing as processed foods. The basics were meat, fish, veggies, fruits, herbs, fresh baked goods, and on occasion, sweets like candy or ice cream. 

With the Industrial Revolution came new discoveries and inventions. Households started having things like refrigerators, and families started doing things like canning the fresh produce that they grew. 

As things moved forward families started getting busier, canned foods, and processed foods came along making it easier for families to have quick meals and continue being busy. Women started going to work rather than staying home full time and eventually the skills of learning how to prepare foods and cook healthy meals from whole foods stopped being passed down and each generation turned more to quick easy processed foods and take out.

A 2010 report from the National Cancer Institute on the status of the American diet found that three out of four Americans don’t eat a single piece of fruit in a given day, and nearly nine out of ten don’t reach the minimum recommended daily intake of vegetables. 

On a Weekly Basis:

  • 96% of Americans don’t reach the minimum for greens or beans (three servings a week for adults) 
  • 98% don’t reach the minimum for orange vegetables (two servings a week) 
  • 99% don’t reach the minimum for whole grains (about three to four ounces a day).

A "dietary quality index" scale was developed to reflect the percentage of calories people derive from nutrient-rich, unprocessed plant foods on a scale of 0 to 100. The higher people score, the more body fat they tend to lose over time, and the lower their risk appears to be of abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides. The American diet rates an 11 out of 100.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates:

  • 25% of our calories come from animal foods 
  • 63% from processed plant foods
  • 12% from whole grains, beans, whole fruits, whole vegetables, and nuts.

Today, Americans get 58% of all calories from ultra-processed foods. Nearly 1000 calories out of a typical 2500-calorie diet are from added fats and sweeteners alone and only 424 calories come from dairy, fruits, and veggies. This all means on a scale of one to ten, the American diet would rate about one.

Here is an excellent video explaining the SAD diet and the impact it makes on our health.

Video: I Ate Junk Food For 10 Days: Here's What Happened To My Body

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) created by the USDA and the HHS has an overall goal to advise people on what to eat to promote good health and prevent disease. This is where the USDA food pyramid comes from and the more recent MyPlate graphics in recent years. These guides and infographics are supposed to have a positive influence on the Standard American Diet. The guidelines are updated every 5 years and started in 1980. The current 2020-2025 guidelines haven't changed much from the 1980s version and still advise Americans to eat less fat and more carbohydrates for good health despite a large number of research findings that contradict that advice. Check out more HERE.

The DGA sets the ideals for what is healthy eating and then compares those ideals to the Standard American Diet (SAD). The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines the Standard American Diet (SAD) as being too low in fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy oils. It also defines SAD as being too high in red meat, low-fat sugar-filled dairy products, processed and fast foods, refined carbohydrates, added sugars, salt, and empty calories. 

Thankfully the DGA committee has finally after many years admitted that the low-fat diets, they have been pushing for years were not supported scientifically. They have also relaxed their recommendations for consuming less cholesterol as science has shown there is no relationship between blood cholesterol levels and naturally found dietary cholesterol in whole foods like eggs for example.

Following the standard American diet is one of the main root causes of disease currently. Eating a standard American diet leads to diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, infertility, mental health issues, metabolic syndrome, and other metabolic issues like insulin resistance. 

Watch this news report video; reporting on a recent study regarding the Standard American Diet.


How Bad Habits Are Killing Americans

In this crazy chaotic world, we live in, making time for healthy meals seems to fall by the wayside and many Americans end up relying on fast food meals like a frozen family meal bought at the grocery store or buying from a fast-food joint on the way home, or on the way to kids activities, etc. Many are also eating fast food at work when on their lunch break...or for breakfast on the way to work. 

As humans, when we made the switch to eating more processed foods for convenience and away from incorporating whole fruits, veggies, and grains regularly into our daily choices we started to see a decrease in bone density, and an uptick in mineral/vitamin deficiencies, diabetes, inflammation, heart disease, and cancers. The processed food industry then started adding things like synthetic vitamins and minerals into drinks, cereals, canned goods, and more to make up for what we would normally get via whole foods. 

Next Module

Now that you have seen the statistics and outcomes of The Standard American Diet, in the next module you will learn more about additives and the addictiveness of processed foods.

Action Steps

  1. Watch the Videos and read the links in this module.
  2. Once you have finished with this module, grab a piece of paper or print out page 10 or 44 in your downloadable I Just Want to Function! Workbook. If you have the spiral-bound workbook Use page 10 or pages 148-150 to write down your answers to the following questions that are designed to help you step back and get an idea of the areas you want to improve in.
  3. Ask yourself: Compared to the Standard American Diet, where does my diet fit in? How many fruits and vegetables do I eat each day? Do I eat a wide variety of colors in my produce, for instance, plenty of leafy green veggies or purple blueberries and cabbage? How often am I eating out and what am I eating? Do I crave salty or sweet foods? Breads? How do I feel that my diet is affecting my health?
  4. Consider logging your food for a week to get a clearer picture of what you are eating. Many times we eat without thinking or remembering much about what we are putting in our mouths. You can use the blank pages in I Just Want to Function! Workbook or using a calorie and macro tracking app is easy, There are many free ones with basic features, I have a fit-bit and use that but Carb Manager and Lose it! are great free apps that can help you get a good baseline feel for your current dietary intake.

Complete and Continue