Calorie Rich, Nutrient Poor: The Paradox of the Standard American Diet

A study published this month in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition (JACN) supplies data to support what has long been suspected: that our Standard American Diet, also known as SAD, makes us fat and paradoxically leaves us nutrient deficient. Food Navigator USA provides a summary of the study findings here.

SAD really is, well, sad.

Recommendations for calorie intake in adults are 1800-2200 calories per day for women and 2200-3000 calories per day for men. Given that more that 67% of adults are overweight or obese in the United States currently, consuming enough calories clearly isn’t the problem; the problem is selecting which calories to consume.

Highly processed, convenience foods are a major culprit. However, the fact that poor quality food exists isn’t news and, therefore, isn’t what we should be most worried about. The problem we need to focus on is how difficult is it for many Americans to tell the difference between highly processed junk and quality health food. If we could all tell the difference, given the opportunity, I know we would make better choices.

That’s where the debates currently defining the Food Movement come into play. Whether it’s GMO labeling, “natural” claims or how we describe cane sugar, these issues can all be grouped under the theme of transparency. Without transparency we lack information, and without information we cannot educate. Ultimately, it is a lack of education and knowledge that, for many, perpetuates poor food choices.

I don’t believe the answer is to get rid of packaged, convenience foods. My stance is quite the opposite, actually. Convenience foods play a critical role in my own modern, multitasking, mom-of-two-kids life. However, I believe they should play a supporting role and choosing them shouldn’t require the intel that being an insider in the food industry and having a doctorate supply.

Whatever your stance may be on the details of any specific Food Movement issue, it’s hard to disagree that transparency is good for all. Because with transparency comes information and it is information that fuels better choices for ourselves and our families.

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Image by Tony Alter

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