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The Ugly Truth Behind The Standard American Diet

Published March 10, 2019 (Revised: July 10, 2019)
<article> <section> <p>The United States is in the middle of a health epidemic. The rates of type 2 diabetes have more than doubled in the past twenty years to affect over nine percent of the population <sup>1</sup>, obesity affects almost forty percent of the adult population <sup>2</sup>, and heart disease is the leading cause of American deaths <sup>3</sup>. You know what the worst part about all of these diseases is? They are all avoidable.</p> <p>Chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease are considered three of the many <i>diseases of affluence</i>, or more commonly called <i>western diseases</i>. These diseases are almost nonexistent in other cultures, and the medical community has pointed to our eating patterns as the culprit. This unhealthy diet in question has been coined the <i>Standard American Diet (SAD)</i>, and while it is the standard diet for Americans, it doesn’t have to be yours.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>What is the Standard American Diet?</header> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="burger-cut-fries-on-plate-0102"> </picture> <p>The SAD is a diet categorized by its processed foods along with a high dairy intake, high saturated fat count, and heavy-handed emphasis on carbohydrates and sugar. Think ‘fast food’ and massive restaurant portions, too. No other culture serves dinner plates that are larger than a human head, and no other culture fills that plate with fried foods and processed meat products.</p> <p>In one year, the average American diet consists of:</p> <ul> <li>Fifty-three gallons of soda</li> <li>Twenty-four pounds of artificial sweeteners</li> <li>2.7 pounds of sodium</li> <li>Twenty-three pounds of pizza</li> <li>Twenty-four pounds of ice cream</li> <li>Twenty-nine pounds of French fries</li> <li>Thirty-one pounds of cheese</li> <li>Six hundred pounds of dairy (not including cheese)</li> <li>One hundred and thirty-four pounds of wheat flour</li> <li>Forty-two pounds of corn syrup</li> <li>Fifty-eight pounds of corn <sup>4</sup></li> </ul> <p>In a pie chart representing our eating patterns, vegetables make up less than one-third of our diet at around four hundred pounds a year <sup>4</sup>. Vegetables are vital to our health because they contain so many <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">micronutrients</a> that our cells and tissues need for upkeep and repair. The lack of nutrients in our diet starves our bodies of the resources they need, and so we overcompensate by eating <i>more</i>.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="potato-chips-and-burger-SAD-0102"> </picture> <p>The average American eats around three thousand calories a day, which is not a crime in itself if you live an active lifestyle and are eating foods that are good for you, but the data shows that Americans are sitting most of the day and consuming roughly twenty-two teaspoons of sugar in a single day. And that sugar count is not from sugars naturally found in fruits and whole vegetables, but in soda, candy, and processed products <sup>5</sup>. The average American gets sixty-three percent of their caloric intake from processed food <sup>6</sup>.</p> <p><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Inflammation</a> may be one of the biggest side effects of following the Standard American Diet, and caused by excessive sugars and unhealthy saturated fats. The SAD puts roughly seventy-eight grams of saturated fat into American diets every day and zero grams of healthy unsaturated fat <sup>7</sup>. Saturated fats are highly inflammatory because the body considers them a threat that needs to be attacked, whereas unsaturated fats are nourishing and required for our cells to absorb certain nutrients.</p> <p>Studies show that Americans are reinforcing the SAD not from our kitchens, but in restaurants and fast food chains. Roughly twenty percent of Americans eat at fast food chains at least once a week <sup>8</sup>. Less than fifty percent of American dinners were cooked at home in the year 2014, <sup>9</sup> which is a staggering difference when you compare it to the eating patterns of other cultures and countries <sup>10</sup>.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>Where Did the Standard American Diet Come From?</header> <p>During and after World War II, the idea of a ‘square meal’ was introduced to American diets. Originally intended as a cheap way to feed soldiers on the battlefield, it was the first time that a diet consisting of a carbohydrate base was pushed as healthy, and with biased science backing up the claims, it quickly became the norm throughout American homes.</p> <p>Before World War II, there were over 6.4 million farms across America with about 80 to 90 percent of the population growing their own food for a plant-based diet. After World War II, the number of farmers across the country dwindled to less than two million <sup>11</sup>. Why this big decline? After World War II, the country started seeing a massive demographic shift as families poured into cities and created the first suburbs, leaving a lot of farmland unattended. But this was also the time when big farming, or <i>BigAg</i> developed.</p> <p>BigAg is the nickname given to massive farming operations influenced by agricultural biotechnology companies like Monsanto. Our farmer demographic changed hands from small-scale family farms to big-scale industrial farming, and with the new emphasis on a carbohydrate-heavy diet via the square meal, most of the big farms started churning out crops like wheat, soy, and corn.</p> <p>Wheat, soy, and corn, incidentally, are the three biggest crops grown in America today. They are called ‘cash crops’ because of the government subsidies BigAg lobbied for decades ago. The large role they play in our farming industry is not because these crops are healthy for us, but because they make our biggest farms the most money. They are also considered to be the three most <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">genetically modified</a> crops on the American market and are proving to be the most harmful to our health <sup>12</sup> .</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>Dietary Changes Can Change Our Health</header> <p>Since World War II, when America made the dietary change of consuming more carbohydrates, our rate of chronic diseases has skyrocketed. Our food steadily became more and more processed, and since the low-fat craze of the 90s, our rate of obesity and diabetes has seen unprecedented upticks. So have conditions such as autoimmune disease, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, ADD/ADHD, and autism.</p> <p>Why did the low-fat craze cause this?</p> <p>Because food without fat doesn’t taste good, so food processing companies used sugar, or more specifically the corn-based high fructose corn syrup, to sweeten products and make them taste good again. The low-fat foods recommended on the SAD are a big reason why we eat so much sugar in a day.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="donut-box-on-table-0102"> </picture> <p>This high rate of sugar consumption messes with our metabolism, insulin levels, and organs, increasing our weight and sending us nosediving into type 2 diabetes. Suddenly our rise in chronic disease makes so much sense, especially when you combine these health effects with the other dietary trends of the SAD.</p> <ul> <li>Our high saturated fat consumption which inflames our bodies and destroys our heart health</li> <li>Our lack of vegetables and plant foods which deprives us of nutrients</li> <li>Our big portions of unhealthy foods and high calorie counts</li> </ul> <p>All of these unhealthy eating patterns of the SAD are what’s driving our obesity epidemic, and our obesity epidemic is what’s driving our chronic disease epidemic. American health never stood a chance against a dietary culture like this.</p> <div class="sub-head">Getting Our Health Back</div> <p>This is a travesty, and it’s only finding a solution in the newest health science which puts whole foods back on our plates and inverts the food pyramid so veggies and fats come first and carbs and sugars come last. Companies like Whole Foods and other organic markets are seeing a huge growth in popularity because Americans are realizing that the processed stuff that makes up the American diet is what is making us sick.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>What are whole foods?</header> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="produce-market-fruit-vegetables-0102"> </picture> <p>Simply put, whole foods are foods that are minimally processed (if at all), and are as close to their natural form as possible. Whole foods are loaded with with vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants which are essential for keeping our bodies happy and healthy. A good rule of thumb: the smaller the ingredient list the better. Or better yet? No list of ingredients!</p> <p>Whole food diets are now known to be the healthiest form of diet. When sick, overweight Americans switch to plant-based diets; they’ve been proven to really reduce their health risks and improve chronic disease <sup>13</sup>. Eating whole foods cuts out processed products, excess sugar, unhealthy fats, and gives us proper nutrition—meaning we’re fuller longer and eating smaller portion sizes.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>So What Now?</header> <p>The SAD diet was developed to make companies money off of the average American consumer, but our current health crisis is turning the tides on that old dietary trend. In light of all our numerous health problems like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, Americans are changing their diets to get back to what nature designed for us. Instead of relying on processed products high in sugar and inflammatory additives, Americans can use alternative diets to get their health back—like incorporating more whole foods.</p> <p>Here’s one more factor to this healthy equation: <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">the ketogenic diet</a>. The ketogenic diet emphasizes healthy fats, clean proteins, and lots of fresh veggies. This diet has been found to drastically cut down on health risks and is recommended for type 2 diabetics to manage their disease and is the top dietary solution for weight loss. The ketogenic diet, coined keto for short, works in tune with how our bodies evolved to eat.</p> <p>Between healthy whole foods and eating fat to lose fat, many Americans swap out the SAD for one of these alternatives for a healthier lifestyle. If you’re interested in the ketogenic diet or incorporating more whole foods into your diet, check out our <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">nutrition</a> page for info and recipes that call for whole and nutrient dense ingredients. <div class="sub-head">Resources</div> <ol> <li> <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer"> More than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer"> Adult Obesity Facts</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer"> Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – At-a-Glance</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer"> Average American Diet – Infographic</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer"> Cut back, way back, on sugar, says heart group</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href=" " rel="noreferrer"> U.S. Food Consumption Size</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer"> Standard American Diet, 2000 calories, 50/15/35</a</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer"> The slow death of the home-cooked meal</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer"> See What People Around The World Eat In A Typical Day</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer"> Eating out behavior in the U.S. - Statistics & Facts</a></li> <li>US Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2010 (2010)</li> <li>The Autoimmune Fix by Tom O’Byran</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer"> Plant-Based Diets</a></li> </ol> </section> </article>

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