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Americans' diet improves, sort of

A new report finds Americans are still eating too much, and too much of the wrong things

It's not just how much we're eating, but what we're eating, that needs work. To put it simply, Americans eat too much and also eat too much of the wrong things, according to a report card on the American diet published today in Nutrition Action Healthletter.

The average American consumes about 2,500 calories per day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, up from about 2,000 calories a day in the 1970s -- more calories than the average sedentary consumer needs.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which publishes the newsletter, gave the American diet a D+ in the category of Meat, Poultry, & Seafood.  Chicken began edging out beef starting in 2004, but Americans still eat more red meat (beef, pork, lamb, and veal) than white meat. 

Red meats, especially processed meats like bacon, ham, hot dogs, and sausage, raise the risk of colon cancer, heart disease, and stroke, the report notes. 

Fruits & vegetables

The report card gives Americans’ Fruit & Vegetable consumption a B-, saying that Americans are ignoring experts’ advice to fill half their plates with vegetables and fruits. Vegetable consumption (minus white potatoes) climbed in the late 1980s but has been inching down since. Fruit (minus juice) has been fairly flat.

Grains got a C-, since we’re still eating far more (mostly white) flour in bagels, buns, tortillas, muffins, cupcakes, doughnuts, cookies, pasta, and pizza crust than in the 1970s.

CSPI issued a D+ on Beverages because sodas (which are mostly sugary, not diet) are still the dominant beverage.

“It’s clear that Americans aren’t now following, nor have they ever followed, the advice dished out by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other health authorities,” said CSPI nutrition director Bonnie Liebman, author of the Nutrition Action article. 

“Americans are eating the diet recommended by food manufacturers and restaurants’ marketing departments, which encourage overconsumption of everything except for fruits and vegetables,” she added.

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