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?