- The typical American diet is loaded with unhealthy constituents such as salt, saturated fat, refined grains, and sugar. This diet is often low on recommended nutrients leading to health issues like obesity.
- Affordability is a contributory factor to unhealthy eating habits. Packaged foods, which are often cheaper than healthier alternatives, contain high amounts of unhealthy constituents.
- Ultra-processed foods are designed to stimulate cravings, and when combined with persuasive advertising, consumers frequently consume these unhealthy options.
- Unhealthy dietary choices lead to serious health concerns beyond weight gain, including type 2 diabetes and an increased risk for certain types of cancer.
- Accessibility is a key issue, with unhealthy food options often overshadowing healthier alternatives. Advocacy for wider access to healthy food options across communities and establishments is important.
A noteworthy concern is that the typical diet in the United States seems to underpin the surge in obesity rates and associated health conditions. A burning question that emerges is what makes the American food culture unhealthy? The issue goes beyond overeating. The core problem lies in the unhealthy constituents of the diet; fat, sugar, salt, and ultra-processed foods.
The American Diet Unpacked
Delving into the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it becomes clear that the typical American diet is loaded with salt, saturated fat, refined grains, and calories from solid fats and added sugars. It is a diet that falls short in the recommended intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy products, and oils. As a result, around 42% of American adults struggle with obesity as per figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Implications of Cost on Healthy Eating
One factor contributing to unhealthy food choices is the affordability of unwholesome packaged foods compared to their healthier alternatives. These pre-packaged products typically contain greater amounts of salt, refined grains, sugar, and unhealthy oils, which are in contrast to the Dietary Guidelines.
The CDC attributes high cholesterol and high blood pressure caused by a high-salt diet to increased rates of heart disease and stroke. The current recommendations suggest that individuals consume less than 2,300 milligrams(mg) of salt per day. However, on average, Americans take in more than 3,400 mg a day. The primary source of salt intake in the American diet is packaged, processed, store-bought, and restaurant foods, which contribute over 70% of the dietary salt content.
Role of Ultra-processed Foods and Advertising
Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist, emphasizes that ultra-processed foods are often designed to stimulate cravings. Coupled with persuasive advertising, consumers are enticed and manipulated into indulging in these unhealthy foods disproportionately. However, Heller accentuates the importance of personal responsibility in resisting such allurements and making informed dietary choices.
Consequences of An Unhealthy Diet
Making unhealthy dietary choices extends beyond weight gain and can lead to serious health issues such as type 2 diabetes. As evidenced by the CDC, there’s an alarming 96 million adults in the U.S with pre-diabetes, a condition that may result in complications like poor circulation, vision loss, and kidney disease.
Furthermore, an unhealthy diet may increase the risk of certain types of cancer. Poor dietary choices can exacerbate chronic conditions that predispose individuals to at least 13 types of cancer, including uterine cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer, and colon cancer, with the latter being associated with high intake of red and processed meat.
Addressing Accessibility to Healthier Foods
The abundance of unhealthy food options vis-à-vis healthy foods is part of the problem, according to the CDC. Packed with sugars, salts, and unhealthy fats, countless aisles of grocery stores are filled with these foods, while healthier options like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are often limited. Advocacy for wider access to healthy food options in communities, workplaces, and schools is needed.
Shifting Towards a Plant-Based Diet
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine appeals to the public to transition to a plant-based diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The adopted diet should involve curtailing the consumption of carbs, red meat, and dairy.
The Obesity Epidemic Among American Adolescents
Dr. David Katz, a specialist in preventive and lifestyle medicine, opines that the ongoing battle against obesity among America’s teens, spanning over three decades, is far from being won. He emphasized that our society has too many entrenched interests profiting from the obesity problem, making efforts at improvement largely ineffective. He passionately advocates for a cultural shift and a committed approach towards a healthier lifestyle.
The Final Word
Katz underscores that the issue persists not because we lack solutions but because more resources are funneled towards perpetuating the problem than towards solving it. There is a need to come to terms with the existence of a food supply filled with addictive junk food designed to encourage overeating and address the root cause rather than focusing merely on portion control.