I hope you’re enjoying your weekend! Yesterday for me was a full Saturday (which you probably already know if you follow me on Instagram!): I supported a friend at the first yoga class she taught, went to a friend’s baby shower, and went to the Dallas Mavericks game (it hasn’t been basketball season since I’ve started the blog, and this clearly isn’t a blog about basketball, but you should know that I am a HUGE Dallas Mavericks fan, and love any opportunity I get to watch them on TV or see them in person! I even flew back from Chicago the night before a final exam in Business School to see Game 4 of the 2011 Finals … leaving me only 30 minutes spare time to arrive at my final exam on the flight the next morning!)
Now on to today’s post! I recently came across a “Scorecard” put out by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and it made me stop and think, so of course, I want to share it with you! I’m very interested in the way people in our country (and our world) eat, and how that changes over time. Learning about these changes was one of my favorite parts of the curriculum when I was becoming a health coach! So when I saw this scorecard, I loved learning about the strengths and weaknesses of the current American diet! There are seven sections to the scorecard, so it fit perfectly for my 7 Tips Series! I’m posting a picture of the scorecard here, but it’s likely easier to read at the link here, if you’re interested.
Here are my 7 Thoughts about the Changing American Diet Scorecard:
- Meat (B): The average American eats 74 pounds of red meat per year?!? Wow! Meat in general, and red meat specifically, is far too complicated a topic to include my full thoughts in one bullet point. Suffice it to say that I believe in all things in moderation … while I think there are perfectly healthy ways to get protein (and nutrients) as a vegetarian, I do personally eat meat. I eat mostly fish, chicken, and turkey, and I try to buy organic whenever possible (eating so many meals in restaurants while traveling makes this difficult). While cooking for myself, though, probably 80% of my meals are vegetarian, mostly due to preference and ease of preparation. But that’s just me. Let’s re-visit this 74 pounds per year number! A standard serving of ground beef is about 4 ounces, so there are 4 servings per pound. This means that the average American eats 296 servings of red meat per year … and that’s including all the vegetarians and low-frequency-meat-eaters like me, which means that many people are eating a whole lot of red meat! For those who are not vegetarian, my recommendation would be to boost the amount of fish you are eating – I was surprised and disappointed to see fish ranking so low on the “meat” chart!
- Dairy (C-): let me first start by saying that I do not agree that everyone “should” be eating dairy … it works for some, and doesn’t work for others. I personally love my yogurt breakfasts, so I’m happy to see that yogurt consumption is rising steadily (and, the scorecard should note that not ALL yogurt has added sugars!). For those that do choose to eat dairy, my recommendation would be to choose plain Greek yogurt, and to use strong-tasting cheese since it goes a long way – I love sprinkling shaved Parmesan on top of my meals!
- Grains (C): I’ve already posted about the benefits of choosing whole grains over processed, white ones, so I’ll leave it at that – my recommendation would be to choose whole grains when you can!
- Sweeteners (D+): Yikes! 78 pounds per person of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup?! Another topic that I’ve posted about is added sugars (I’ve touched on artificial sweeteners as well), so I’ll leave you with my recommendation – while I don’t stay away from naturally occurring sugars like those in fruit, I think it’s a great idea to try to limit your consumption of processed, added sugars as much as possible. (Again, everything in moderation, and no need to strive for perfection! I certainly consume my fair share of added sugar, but hopefully it’s not 78 pounds per year!)
- Fats and Oils (B+): This is another tough one. YES, I think that trans fats and low-quality cooking fats should be avoided, or at least limited. However, I don’t like the message this scorecard sends that “fat is bad.” In fact, I love my healthy fats (avocado, nuts, nut butters, and olive oil especially!), and I know that fat is a very important part of a healthy diet. Consuming healthy fats does NOT make you fat! So, while 50 pounds per person sure does sound like a lot, if it was coming from high-quality sources, I’d be all about it! My recommendation is to choose healthy fats where possible, and don’t be afraid to include fat in your diet!
- Fruits and Vegetables (B-): If you’ve been reading my blog for more than … oh … one second, you probably know that I’m a HUGE fan of fruits and vegetables! I believe that almost everyone could benefit from increasing their fruit and vegetable consumption, so I’m thrilled to see our levels staying near their all-time high. They’re the lowest food group on the overall chart, but fruits and veggies are so low in calories to start with, so I don’t think the chart is truly representative. My recommendation – load up on fruits and vegetables, especially those green leafy ones! (picture source)
- Milk (B): This is another one that I can’t do justice to without a full post. Let’s just say that the dairy industry has been proven to have heavy influence over most national dietary recommendations that are published. After all, didn’t we cover dairy in #2? And isn’t milk considered dairy? So why do we need another whole “food group” on our scorecard? If dairy works for you (and it does for me), then I think milk is just fine, and can be a great way to get some protein – again, in moderation. However, if milk doesn’t work for you, or you don’t like it, you’re NOT unhealthy just because you don’t drink milk. It is quite interesting to see that whole milk consumption has dropped so steadily, and lower-fat milks have not increased by nearly as much. My recommendation – if milk works for you, it can be a nice addition to a healthy diet, but if it doesn’t, and you have a balanced diet, you can still be healthy!
So tell me in the comments … Choose one nutritional area (it doesn’t have to be on the initial list) and give yourself a “score” for that area … what is it? If you’re not living in the US, what do you think is the biggest difference between your country and this scorecard?
well this is a very easy comment to write…i agree with every point you made! and it all sounds VERY similar to my lifestyle! yes fruits/veggies are awesome and i try to choose my whole grains (though we all know that white bread is fabulous every now and then). i definitely feel way better without added sugars in my life and while i enjoy red meat, i totally concentrate on protein from beans and fish above other protein sources. i used to drink milk ALL the time but now i rarely ever do. i get plenty of dairy from my greek yogurt and cheese!
Thank you, Caitlin! You’re right, our lifestyles sound so similar … wish we lived closer so we could enjoy a meal together!
A few quick thoughts (love the post AND the great comments!):
– I would bet that those consuming the most red meat are NOT using the 4oz portion guideline … just sayin’ 🙂
– The important thing to remember about things like ‘fats’ are that what they are mostly talking about is ADDED fats … note the high amount of shortening and so on. I am sure much of that feeds into the ‘Twinkee-centric’ snack culture.
– Same for sweeteners … we aren’t talking about sugars consumed by eating the awesome pear I just had … but the sucralose in the 24oz Pepsi Max the person was drinking in a meeting I just got out of.
– Dairy is another concern … I have my family on natural greek yogurt at this point, and just looking at the ‘chemical soup’ that is most yogurts is disgusting to me now!
– Grains – there was a report on how companies can totally process grains, then add back things in correct ratios in order to call their product ‘whole grain’. That is just shameful …
Oh, and I did see the Mavs pic on Instagram, looked like you guys had fun. Since I lived in suburban Boston for 42 years I am a big Boston fan, and the area of western NY we are in is split with fans of Buffalo teams (NFL, NHL), Pittsburgh, and New York … so my kids don’t get crap for being Boston fans as well 🙂 So needless to say I was happy (and exhausted) last week after the World Series.
I love the comments, too, thanks for reading them Michael! YES, I agree with you about the meat portions … some of the portions of meat I see served in restaurants are just insane! Thanks for the point on the added fats … most added fats in packaged foods are NOT the healthy ones I like to focus on, so maybe I was feeling defensive by calling out the issue. It’s such a shame that companies can market “healthy” products like the yogurt you mention or the fortified grains (that are super processed and not really whole grains anymore) … I just hate it for the people who don’t know better and are trying to be healthy.
Because I went to college in Boston, I became a Celtics, Red Sox, and Patriots fan (I was there in ’04 and ’07 for the Red Sox’s wins), but none of them will EVER top my Mavs in my mind :).
Oh that’s right – I remember reading that you went to school in Cambridge on your ‘about’ page! But it also makes sense that when you came home you would return to your home team. Just like regardless of where I live I’ll always be a Boston fan 🙂
Yes! The Patriots are my second favorite football team (the Tampa Bay Bucs are my first – Kevin won that one!), and the Celtics are tied for my 3rd favorite basketball team (Mavs are first, obviously, and Phoenix is second only because I started liking them when Steve Nash went there. Tied for 3rd with Celtics is Oklahoma City – EXCEPT when they’re playing the Mavs!) Yes, I’m dorky enough to have a sports hierarchy of favorites :).
I think Canadians are about on par with Americans. I’d give myself an A when it comes to fruit and veggies but more like a B with meat. I really like meat but am lazy and not as creative when it comes to cooking it. I’m trying to get better though so check back in a year 😉
I don’t think that “Davida” and “lazy” can fit in the same sentence! I don’t cook meat very much myself, either, because it’s just so much easier to cook vegetarian, and touching raw meat kinda skeeves me out sometimes (I know, I need to get over it!). Congrats on your A with fruit and veggies – my fave!
I will admit, I need to stop eating artificial sweeteners. I have them in my coffee sometimes.. and I really need to stop! I don’t eat any dairy or red meat so I score good there and I eat lots of fruits/veggies but I can definitely try to add more to my diet.
I used to eat tons of artificial sweeteners, Christine, and I didn’t realize that they were making me feel bad until I stopped. What kind of artificial sweeteners are you using? I switched to stevia for my coffee (I would love to go to black coffee, but I just really enjoy my sweetened-with-stevia coffee!), and have reduced artificial sweeteners in other processed food. Of course, I choose to eat some foods with artificial sweeteners on occasion, and I’m fine with that … it’s all about picking your battles and finding the balance that works for you! Great job on the fruits and veggies!
I agree that dairy shouldn’t be recommended for all… it does not get along with my body at all! The sweetener stat is scary.
I agree with you that the stat is scary, Lora! Glad you’ve figured out that dairy doesn’t work for you – it’s all about figuring out what works best for ourselves!
This is so interesting- Its ironic the dairy and milk getting two different portions on there….because milk is obviously not dairy!
Here in Aus, I think red meat is the preferred protein source compared to chicken/turkey/fish- I think its because of the quality of our pork/lamb and beef compared to other parts of the world, and relatively cheap as well. (Turkey is so expensive here!) I personally eat alot of fish and chicken, but also love red meat- My low iron levels often dictate when I haven’t had enough!
You like fruit and vegetables? No way.
My husband can sense when his body needs red meat, too, due to low iron levels – I think that’s so cool! I love learning about the body giving cues based on cravings, etc. I think quality makes a HUGE difference – a lot of the beef we have in the US is loaded with hormones, and we’d all be so much better off with higher quality meat. I thought of you today, Arman – Kevin went out looking for kangaroo, which I had seen at a Sprouts here before, and he didn’t find it! He was so excited to grill it, but we’ll keep looking :).
I think this is a very interesting post. And I’m 100% with you on the whole grains!
Thanks, Elise! Glad you’re on board!
Milk is a big pet peeve of mine. Cows milk is SO bad for us! The protein ratio is all wrong. It’s chock full of IGF-1–a naturally occurring hormone (NOT added by humans, but naturally produced by cows) that has been proven to cause breast cancer in humans. Milk should be taxed and packaged with warning labeling like cigarettes.
Robert, THANK YOU for saying this to start off my thoughts on milk. I learned a lot about milk and its dangers in my health coaching education, and this is exactly what many people say. (In fairness, I should say that I have seen solid research on both sides – some saying that milk, in moderation, is fine, and some showing all of the growth-inducing hormones rampant in milk and the danger it can cause on humans). For me personally, I use almond milk in baking, on cereal, and in every other use – but I use a bit of cow’s milk in my one cup of coffee every single day. I feel fine with this and think it’s an OK balance for me, for right now. Sometimes I look at the research and think milk is abhorrent, and other times I think “people have been drinking cow’s milk for centuries and have been fine” (but are they really ‘fine’?!). Like I said, I want to discuss in full another day, but I really appreciate your educated opinion here!
I have to say that the sweeteners area I do not score well on. It is something I really need to work on and try to stick to natural forms of sweetening instead of artificial. Great post Megan! Looks like you and Kevin had a great weekend!
It’s definitely a work in progress for me, too, Sara. That’s the whole point always something to improve upon!
70+ pounds? That’s a lot of meat. Even when I ate meat I don’t think I ate that much. Did I? My score for fruits and veggies A+ and I’m moving toward an A with the healthy fats. Love this!
I know, Jill, that sounds like so much! I would estimate that I personally eat red meat about 5-6 times per year, and if I have 6 ounces, that’s about 2 pounds per year! So, with all the vegetarians like you and the rare-red-meat-eaters like me, think about how much the “hardcore” meat eater is consuming?!? It’s crazy! Congrats on being an A+ for fruits and vegetables – that’s my best score, too!