Why is so much attention being given to Americans’ nutritional habits—especially their intake of fruits and vegetables? How bad is it? Are things improving? Should I be concerned about my own family? These are just a few of the questions patients might have as they read articles in the newspaper or on the Internet. With this in mind, we thought we’d share some statistics and discuss some of the trends that help to explain all the attention.
In general terms, nutrition experts believe that we should be increasing the amount and the variety of fruits and vegetables in our diet at the same time that we should be reducing our consumption of meat and grains. So how are we doing?
Are we balanced?
The best way to answer this question is to compare the average American’s eating pattern to the MyPlate recommendations published by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Using this approach, we can see how close to the government’s version of a “balanced diet” we’re actually getting.
Based on 2012 data from the USDA, the average American is eating:
- About 30% too much from the meat, eggs and nuts group
- Almost 20% too much from the grains group
- About 35% too little from the vegetables group
- About 50% too little from the dairy group
- More than 60% too little from the fruit group
Are we getting enough variety?
You’ve probably read or heard that it’s best to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables—to choose based on type and color. Dark green, purple, orange, red, blue and yellow should all be on the menu. And the good news is that many grocery stores have responded to the demand for more variety over the past few years by giving shoppers more choices in the produce section. So how have US consumers responded?
The USDA’s data suggest that Americans are sticking with what they know. It turns out that—at least with respect to fruits and vegetables—there’s not a lot of diversity in the typical American’s at-home diet. To help illustrate this point, here are two statistical snapshots, one that ranks Americans’ favorite vegetables and another that ranks their favorite fruits. Again, these rankings are based on the amount that the average person eats in a given year according to 2012 USDA data.
Close-Up on Vegetable Diversity
The average American ate:
- More than 50 pounds of potatoes
- More than 30 pounds of tomatoes
- Fewer than 10 pounds each of onions and head lettuce
- About 5 pounds each of sweet corn, romaine and leaf lettuce and Chile peppers
The really striking thing is the enormous drop-off between the top two favorites and the rest of the pack. According to the USDA, the popularity of potatoes and tomatoes can be attributed to our ongoing love affair with French fries and pizza. Another striking thing is what’s missing. While broccoli and carrots, for instance, are pretty dense (and therefore heavy) staple vegetables, they don’t rank high in the list at all.
Close-Up on Fruit Diversity
As is the case with vegetables, Americans’ taste in fruit is fairly narrow and predictable. In 2012, the average person consumed:
- Between 25 and 30 pounds of oranges and apples
- About 10 pounds of bananas
- Between 5 and 10 pounds of grapes
- Fewer than 5 pounds each of watermelon, strawberries and peaches and nectarines
The most interesting thing to note is that, when it comes to the fruits we eat like most—oranges and apples—we’re drink as much (or more) than we eat. Nutritionists are quick to point out that drinking juice is NOT the same thing as eating whole fruit. We’re missing out on a lot of the nutritional benefit while still consuming an awful lot of sugar.
So long as these types of statistics continue to hold true, it’s clear that there’s an ongoing need for public health organizations and the healthcare community to continue their efforts to educate people about the importance of good nutrition (especially fruits and vegetables) in maintaining good health. As chiropractic physicians, we work closely with our patients to help them develop good lifestyle habits that can prevent illness and injury while also improving quality of life. Want to learn more? Call or visit our office today!