A new study published in JAMA provides a report card on the American diet and shows that we have not learned our lessons very well.  We’re still eating too many bad carbs and more saturated fat than we should.

In examining the diets of 44,000 adults over 18 years, it was found thaat 42% of their daily calories came from low quality carbohydrates including refined grains, starchy vegetables and added sugars while high quality carbs from whole grains and fruits only accounted for 9%.  Zhilei Shan, an author of the study at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health points out that “because low quality carbs are associated with disease risk, taking in higher-quality carbs could mean better health for Americans in the future”.

The study also found that 12% of our daily calories came from saturated fat, with the recommended amount being 10%.  Shilpa Bhupathiraju, another author of the study, explained that “most of the proteins that Americans consumed were from meats – including red and processed meat.  Proteins consumed from seafood and healthy plant sources, such as whole grains, nuts and legumes, remained a much smaller proportion.  Our research suggests that Americans have an opportunity to diversify their sources of protein to include more seafood, beans, soy products, nuts and seeds.”

Another finding was that the poorer you are or the lower your level of education, the less likely you are to improve the quality of your diet over time.  This is also the case for adults over 50.

What should be the biggest takeaway from this report card?  There is a lot of room for improvement!  Let the results of the study point you in the right direction:

  1. Reverse the proportion of good carbs to bad ones and focus on eating unprocessed or minimally processed foods like fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  A good rule of thumb is eat foods that either don’t come packaged or have very few added ingredients.  Examples of good packaged items would be canned beans or tuna and frozen fruits and vegetables, especially organic ones.
  2. Stay away from junk food, fast food, sodas and sugary desserts.  Cook more and eat out less so that you know exactly what’s in the food you’re eating (plus it will save you money).
  3. Try to replace some of the meat you eat with plant-based proteins like beans, tofu, tempeh, nuts and seeds.  Also eat more fish.
  4. Be willing to experiment and learn some new tricks.  It’s never too late to make changes to your diet and improve your grade.
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