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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Our Changing Eating Patterns

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently published information on the sources of our daily caloric intake between 1970 and 2008, a time period in which our daily caloric consumption increased by 23.2% from 2,169 cals to 2,672 cals, and rates of overweight and obesity have risen sharply. An interactive graphic was created from the data that allows users to scroll along a time-line to see how the amount of daily calories in each food category has changed over time. The following are the percentage changes in calories coming from each food category:

meat, eggs, and nuts: +4.1%
fruit:                         +22.9%
added fat:                 +56.3%
dairy:                          -3.7%
grains:                      +44.7%
vegetables                   -2.4%
added sugar              +14.2%

Some Observations on the Data

In Terms of Absolute Calories
  • The biggest contributors by far to our increased daily caloric intake are added fat (231 cals) and grains (193 cals).
  • Much more modest contributors to our increased daily caloric intake are added sugar (57 cals), meat/eggs/nuts (19 cals), and fruit (16 calories).
  • Our daily consumption of dairy actually decreased by 10 calories and of vegetables by 3 calories.
In Terms of Percentage of Daily Calories
  • The only foods that increased as percentages of our diet from 1970 to 2008 are added fats (from 18.9% to 24.0% of daily calories) and grains (from 19.9 % to 23.4% of daily calories).
  • Caloric consumption from fruit was steady at 3.2 % of calories.
  • All other foods declined as percentages of our daily calories including meat/nuts/eggs (from 21.3% to 18.0% of daily calories), dairy (from 12.3% to 9.6% of daily calories), added sugar (from 18.5% to 17.2% of daily calories), and vegetables (from 5.8% to 4.6% of daily calories).
Bottom Line
The greatest contributors to our increase in caloric consumption are grains and added fat. While we have increased our intake of all other foods except vegetables, grains and fat together account for 84% of our increase in caloric consumption and should therefore be the prime focus of cutting back calories. This makes it clear that the low-fat and low-carb diets are both missing something because the intake of both must be reduced. Any diet that emphasizes what you eat rather than how much you eat is bound to fail. Overweight and obese people who seek to attain a healthy body weight must face the reality that total intake must be lessened. Focusing on eating both fewer grain-based foods and fewer added fats is a good start.

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