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
Posted in Diet and Disease, Eating Habits, Eating Right, HEALTH GOES STRONG, Healthy Lifestyle, Mindless Eating, Nutritional Needs, Obesity, Servings Sizes, Snacking and tagged , , , .

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