The American diet has not improved with access to more food and nutrition information than ever before

Why is the American Diet So Bad?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the original blog here.


The American diet is not good, and I think I know why. It’s not because we don’t know what’s good for us, can’t afford the good stuff, or can’t get enough of it.

We have access to the most abundant and consistent food supply in the world. There is more information available to us about the composition of our food and how and where it’s grown than ever before. And we have more knowledge about our nutritional needs throughout the lifecycle and how different foods impact our health than at any other time in history.

Still, we struggle to eat right. I believe it boils down to three very fundamental things that determine virtually all of our food choices, regardless of what we know, read or hear about food and nutrition. They are Taste, Time, and Talent. Until we can conquer their influence over our eating habits there is little reason to believe we’ll eat any better in the next 35 years than we did in the last.

Taste Rules

Taste is the number one factor influencing food choice. Year after year consumer surveys tell us this.

Food manufacturers know it, so they market products that taste good to us. That’s why national brands and franchises do so well. They deliver what we want the way we like it every time.

This makes perfect sense when you consider how much food and money is wasted when you buy products that have the best nutrition score or lowest price or fewest ingredients on the label, but no one in your family likes them. People eat what they like. Always have, always will.

Time Crunch

The next factor I believe is controlling our diets is the amount of time we are willing to spend on getting food and eating it. Most people can’t find 30 minutes a day. I spend around 12 hours a week. That’s 2 hours for shopping and storing food and about 1.5 hours a day preparing it, eating, and cleaning up.

If you can’t shop for your own food, prepare it, and portion it out for yourself you are left with short cuts that can easily undermine your good intentions. Eating out, buying take-out, and using prepared and convenience foods do save time, but often lead to compromises on the quality, cost, and quantity that you eat. Yet no matter how little time you have, you won’t be disappointed with the taste, because we only buy what we like.

Limited Talent

The final factor that keeps us from eating well is limited talent in the kitchen. Ironically, the rise in food and nutrition information over the past three decades has been matched by a decline in basic cooking skills. Yes, there are plenty of cooking shows and celebrity chefs to show us how, but most Americans do not have the confidence to properly select and prepare food for themselves and their family.

When you don’t know how to cook (or don’t like to cook or have time to cook), you cannot take advantage of all the best nutritional values in the grocery store, healthy meal planning advice, or cost-saving tips available. Just like folks who are short on time, you will rely on restaurants, take-out, prepared and convenience foods to get most of your meals. And all that good dietary information will take a back seat.

This doesn’t mean there is no hope for improving the way Americans eat. But I do think we have to start looking for different solutions. Maybe a pill that alters taste preferences, a shorter work week, and mandatory home economics classes for all students?

Who taught you to cook, and who have you taught?

Other posts on this topic:

  • Being Busy Interferes with Eating Regular Meals
  • Fast Food May Hurt Us in More Ways Than One
Numbers matter for weight control, healthy diet and physical fitness

Weight Control, Healthy Diet and Fitness are All a Numbers Game


I’ve written about some of the important numbers involved in weight control and balanced diets before. Things like the difference between serving sizes and portion sizes and the grams of protein you need each day. But there are more numbers you need to know for good nutrition and physical fitness. Many more.

Unfortunately, self-control and mindful eating are not enough. If you want to lose, gain or maintain your weight or strive for a healthier diet and fitter body, you’ve got to watch the numbers. Here are some that matter most.

Calorie level? This is based on your age, height, and weight and activity level – all important numbers to know. If you do, you can figure out your daily calorie requirement here.

Number of Food Groups? 5 + 1 + “extra calories” are what we get in the latest USDA eating guide, ChoseMyPlate.

Number of servings per day from each group? Varies based on calorie level. The ranges for adults are:

5 – 8 ounce equivalents of Grains, with at least ½ as whole grains

2 – 3 cups of Vegetables, with specific amounts per week for the 4 subgroups

1 ½ – 2 cups Fruit

3 cups Dairy

5 – 6 ½ ounce equivalents Protein Foods

5 – 7 teaspoons oils

120 – 265 Empty Calories

Serving size? Varies with each food and each food group, but includes numbers of ounces, cups, tablespoons, teaspoons and counted pieces, like 3 pancakes or 16 seedless grapes.

Amount of aerobic activity? 2 hours + 30 minutes per week at a moderate level or 1 hour + 15 minutes at a vigorous level based on the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.

Steps or Miles per day? 10,000 steps a day counted on a pedometer, which is equivalent to approximately 5 miles, can be an alternative way to get your aerobic activity according to Shape Up America!

Amount of strength conditioning? 2 days a week working all the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms), with 8-12 repetitions per activity that counts as one set.

As you can see, there are many numbers involved in reaching all the goals for a healthy diet and fit body. Fortunately, if you make a habit of eating right and staying active you won’t need a calculator to get through your day!

Check these related articles to help you get your numbers to add up right.

Protein in the Diet – How Much is Enough?

Getting Enough Protein from the Foods You Eat

Serving Size, Portion Size and Body Size Are All Connected

Remove the distractions that lead to mindless eating to stop overeating and lose weight

Research on Mindless Eating Offers New Insight into Obesity

Eating while distracted can lead to overeating and weight gain

Research presented by Dr. Marion Hetherington at the 2011 Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo about multitasking and mindless eating provided proof that weight gain isn’t just about what you eat, but how you eat.

Dr. Hetherington explained that “satiation” is the sensation that lets us know when to end a meal or stop eating. “Satiety” describes what we feel after eating that tells us we’re satisfied, but not stuffed. Hunger is the signal that it’s time to eat again. Being able to detect each of these physical conditions has strong cognitive component.

Or simply put, we must pay attention when eating so our mind can process all of the signals that our body receives through sight, smell, taste and touch, in addition to the barrage of gastrointestinal signals transmitted with each bite.

According to Dr. Hetherington, several studies show that if you eat while doing other things, such as watching TV, reading or even talking, you can end up overeating. Appetite regulation is also affected by the amount of food available, such as large servings or buffets, even if the food doesn’t taste that good.

Based on this emerging research, a new direction for treating weight gain and obesity has evolved that focuses on the act of eating. Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD explained how Intuitive Eating, an approach she helped pioneer, allows people develop a healthy relationship with food and their own body.

Intuitive Eating is based on 10 principles which begin with rejecting the diet mentality and all the externalized rules for “dieting” that go with it. In this way the physical cues of hunger and satiety can begin to guide eating.

Ms. Tribole described “eating amnesia” as what occurs when you eat while distracted. She went on to explain that eating intuitively requires being aware of the food in front of you, as well as your emotions and body sensations.

The benefits of overcoming mindless eating and eating more intuitively go far beyond weight control according to both speakers. Practitioners gain a whole new appreciation for how to live in their own bodies and more accurately interpret their other needs, feelings and thoughts unrelated to food.

Given the abysmal results of most weight loss diets and the constantly changing food landscape, it makes sense to redirect your attention to how you eat, instead of what, if you want to lose weight. Why not shut down all the electronics and other distractions at your next meal and see how it feels?