Changing diets at a glacial pace

Changing diets at a glacial pace

It may seem like all Americans are eating worse than ever but data suggests something a little different. When researching dietary trends, you might come across the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit organization that is 90 percent consumer-based for its funding. When discussing matters of food these days, we really need to understand what “science” is being funded and by whom. So what does CSPI say about dietary trends?

Since 1970, their data indicate that the consumption of beef per person has dropped from about 67 pounds to a little less than 50 pounds. From their perspective, that’s good. Those with a penchant for meat in their meals, however, moved to chicken more than doubling their consumption of the white meat; from about 22 pounds per person in 1970 to about 48 pounds today. Fish, turkey and pork have remained relatively stable throughout the last forty years or so with turkey the least consumed with fish slightly higher. Pork has been bumping along at 30 to 34 pounds per person during the same period.

In the world of grains, according to CSPI, white and whole wheat flour has increased from about 77 pounds to 95 pounds. Though far less in volume, Americans doubled their consumption of corn flour, starch and grits from less than 10 pounds to more than 20. While oats are at the bottom with barely 3 pounds per person, rice is on the rise from about 3 pounds to nearly 12 pounds.

According to the Whole Grains Council, more and more products are being labeled as whole grains and the label has become a leading factor in consumer choices. In 2012, the International Food Information Council Foundation asked about purchasing factors. Here’s what captured consumers’ interest most often:

  • Calories (71%)
  • Whole grains (67%)
  • Sugars in general (60%)
  • Sodium/salt/fats/oils (60%)

Why are whole grains attractive to diet-conscious consumers? The nutritional value of grain that has not been highly processed is higher in fiber and, for some, the taste is more appealing. Again, this data come from the whole grains industry but the science behind how our bodies process whole grains is fairly well understood.

According to WebMD, a switch to whole grains can reduce overall mortality rates by 15%. “The bottom line is that switching to whole grains is one of the most important things you can do for your health. So make the switch everywhere you can.” This citation also explained that processing grain to remove the bran and germ lengthened the shelf life for food processors. At the same time, however, B-vitamin deficiencies began to rise.

Whole grains also have the benefit of being digested more slowly which results in lower blood sugar and insulin levels. Women who ate more than 5 grams of whole grain fiber had about 30 percent less risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who ate half the amount.

Eating whole grains also is credited with a lower incidence of heart disease and a measurable reduction in cholesterol and blood pressure.

So what’s not to like?

The segment of the food industry that CSPI pans is the dairy industry, specifically the producers and consumers of cheese. The year after we landed on the moon, Americans were eating about 8 pounds of cheese per person. By 2010, we were eating more than 23 pounds on everything from pizzas to salads. The main component of cheese is animal fat. Another source of butterfat, however, has taken a nose dive. Whole milk once accounted for 21 gallons per person per year. That figure now has been reduced to only four gallons and is exceed in total consumption by 2% reduced-fat milk.

And fats from vegetables and grains also has been on the rise from 31 to 51 pounds per person in the same 40 year period. Though considered better than animal fat, they usually come mixed in pastries, pies and cookies. For Americans, the three major food groups seem to be fat, carbs and sugar.

We are what we eat which is a good reminder that if we wish to be less fat, we need to eat less fat. The old reminder that your mother or grandmother used to intone is what will change the trajectory of our health: EAT YOUR VEGETABLES AND FRUIT. For more facts and good recipes, Google “healthy eating” and see what pops up. For sure, it won’t be a Pop Tart.

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