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Uncovering the American Diet: An Overview of Eating Habits and Health in the US

By Michael Gonzales
July 18, 2023
An overview of Eating Habits and Health in the US

The American diet has changed significantly over the past decades, and more recently, as we continue to navigate an ever-evolving food landscape. With the Standard American Diet having been linked to health issues like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cancer, it is worth exploring the dietary habits of Americans, and looking into alternatives available.

This article will uncover the origins of the Standard American Diet, discuss current national dietary guidelines, explore its implications on health, and outline alternatives for a healthier lifestyle. We'll also examine the typical American diet plate, the frequency with which Americans eat out, fast food consumption, snacking habits, and other topics such as the USDA MyPlate guidelines or the controversy surrounding red meat consumption and cancer.

Get ready to find out what's really going on with America's eating habits!

Short Summary

  • The Standard American Diet is characterized by an abundance of poor dietary choices, leading to chronic diseases, obesity, and other detrimental health effects.
  • The Standard American Diet is characterized by an abundance of poor dietary choices, leading to chronic diseases, obesity, and other detrimental health effects.
  • The Standard American Diet is characterized by an abundance of poor dietary choices, leading to chronic diseases, obesity, and other detrimental health effects.

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Overview of the American Diet

Overview of the American Diet

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is characterized by a macronutrient composition of 50% carbohydrates, 15% protein, and 35% fat. The primary pitfalls of the American diet are excessive sodium intake and inadequate consumption of nutritious foods. Nutrients or food components most closely linked to health risks that affect the most Americans include excessive calories, saturated fats, trans fats, and added sugars, as well as inadequate amounts of sodium, vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and fiber.

Fiber has been linked to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, as well as promoting digestive health. Whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits and nuts are excellent sources of dietary fiber. Consuming these foods daily can provide significant health benefits. Calcium is essential for maintaining bone health and performing fundamental biological processes like nerve transmission, vasoconstriction, vasodilation, and muscle contraction. The Adequate Intake (AI) level for calcium is not met by eating foods alone by most people in the United States, apart from boys and girls aged 1 to 3 years.

The national nutritional guidelines for Americans include energy balance, limitation of total calories, and portion control. The diet should be nutrient-dense and include minerals. Vegetables, fruits, and high-fiber whole grains are recommended, as well as fat-free or low-fat fluid milk and milk products, seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, soy products, nuts, seeds, and oils. Solid fats and added sugars should be kept to a minimum.

Poor Dietary Choices

Poor dietary choices in the American diet include consumption of excessive sodium, saturated fat, and sugar, and insufficient intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other nutrient-dense foods. The potential repercussions of such dietary choices can lead to chronic diseases, obesity, and other detrimental health effects.

Common examples of poor dietary choices in the American diet include fast food, sugary drinks, processed snacks, and inadequate consumption of fruits and vegetables. In addition, the American diet quality is characterized by an abundance of animal based foods, dietary sugars, and a western diet.

Perception of the American Diet

Perception of the American Diet

91 of respondents in the United States assessed their diets as "good" or higher, according to, while only 1.2% viewed their diets as "poor". Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, are the current US federal dietary guidelines, and recommend that Americans should reduce their fat intake and increase their intake of carbohydrates for optimal health. The MyPlate graphic is a visual representation of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which shifted from a pyramid shape to a circular plate. This graphic indicates that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that most Americans should obtain most of their calories from plant-based carbohydrates.

Additionally, it is estimated that 37% of American adults consume fast food on a regular basis. Poor nutrition and unhealthy food choices, such as processed foods and refined carbohydrates, lead to an abundance of health problems such as obesity, chronic disease, and heart disease. The Standard American Diet, or SAD, is characterized by low diet quality, high dietary sugar intake, and low consumption of different food groups. This diet has severe health implications, including high body mass index, poor nutrition, and an increased risk for chronic diseases.

What does the Average American Diet Look Like?

What does the Average American Diet Look Like?

Historically, the U.S. national guidelines have not provided guidance on the frequency of consumption of certain foods. The experts have not recommended a particular diet plan. Instead, they suggested consuming specific servings of each food group every week. The federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee evaluates the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data and relevant nutritional research to formulate the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).

Carbohydrates commonly make up around half of the American diet. Protein typically constitutes about 15%, while fat accounts for 35%. It is suggested that adults consume between 2,000 and 2,500 calories per day, with 15.3% fewer grains and 10.6% more protein than recommended. It is recommended to consume 50 percent of total grains as whole grains.

Fruits and vegetables should make up half of your plate per the USDA's MyPlate guidelines. For the other half, consist of a quarter of lean proteins, a quarter grains and a serving of low-fat dairy on the side. Americans consume slightly more fruit than recommended, with 37.5% reporting eating protein 3-5 times a week, and a Standard American diet plate skewed towards protein and refined grains. The USDA's MyPlate guidelines recommend that at least half of the grains in the American diet should be whole grains.

Younger Americans consume 14% less protein and 52% more carbohydrate, with 48.4% of Americans reporting consuming vegetables 3-5 times a week and dairy consumption in accordance with national standards. Research indicates that teenagers generally consume the highest amounts of fruits, vegetables, and grains.

MyPlate offers a tailored approach to eating, taking into account your age and average daily caloric intake. It provides you with the optimal quantity of each food group for your needs.

Nutritional Trends

Nutritional Trends

Monitoring nutrient intake through eating habits and activities is an important part of maintaining a healthy diet. According to a survey, 62.2% of participants reported eating from a restaurant or fast food joint one or two times a week. 18- to 29-year-olds eat out 2.5 times a week, which is even higher than those ages 30 to 49, who eat out 2.4 times a week. Moreover, 51.9% of Americans snack once or twice a week, and 47.8% of Americans consume soda on a weekly basis.

Though many people track their calorie intake, they often fail to track their carbs or fruit intake. This is concerning since the nutrients in these foods are essential for overall health. Additionally, convenience applications such as Uber Eats, DoorDash, GrubHub, and Postmates have made ordering delivery easier than ever. This further emphasizes the need to be mindful of what one is consuming.

Health Implications of the Standard American Diet

Health Implications of the Standard American Diet

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is a modern dietary pattern, characterized by an emphasis on carbohydrates as the core of daily meals. This diet has its roots in the transition from hunting to agriculture, which occurred 10,000 years ago. The SAD has been linked to various chronic diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

The high carbohydrate intake of the SAD can lead to elevated insulin levels and inflammation, both of which can contribute to the development of diabetes. Diabetes has an estimated total cost of $174 billion in the United States, and the most effective and practical approach to decreasing its prevalence is dietary and exercise interventions. High carb intake has also been linked to cancer growth through inflammation, and chronic inflammation has also been associated with a variety of other diseases, including heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and depression.

The SAD also has a detrimental effect on the cells that line the intestinal tract, leading to an inflammatory response which destroys beneficial bacteria and allows for the proliferation of toxic organisms. Red meat consumption has also been linked to cancer in numerous epidemiological studies, leading to the recommendation by the USDA Dietary Guidelines to limit red meat intake. However, some recent research indicates that the effects of red and processed meat consumption on cancer mortality and incidence may be minimal.

Alternatives to the Standard American Diet

Alternatives to the Standard American Diet

A ketogenic diet is an alternative to the Standard American Diet (SAD). It is characterized by high fat and low carbohydrate intake, while the Standard American Diet is high in carbohydrates and low in fat. It also involves the consumption of natural fats, fresh meats, and seafood, as opposed to processed foods and unhealthy fats which are often found in the Standard American diet.

Research suggests that a ketogenic diet may provide numerous health benefits, such as lowered blood sugar and insulin levels, reduced glycation and inflammation, and improved brain function. These benefits suggest that the USDA guidelines should be adapted to the advantages of a ketogenic diet in order to maximize the potential health benefits.

This would involve updating the guidelines to reflect the most recent research on the benefits of a ketogenic diet.


The Standard American Diet (SAD) is an eating pattern that places considerable emphasis on processed and fast food, refined grains, saturated fats, sodium, and sugar, all of which often come packaged in large portion sizes. While this type of diet might be convenient, its high calorie and nutrient spectrum can lead to a higher risk of obesity and chronic diseases. Our review of the average American diet confirms that while it might have sufficient caloric content, it lacks key nutrients such as vitamins A, C, E, and K; Minerals such as iron, potassium, and magnesium; and fiber-rich whole grains. These should all form part of our plate if we want to improve both our health and well-being.

The perception of the American diet is generally positive despite its risks for chronic disease and obesity. This may be due to the widespread availability of fast-foods that people make mistakes in what they believe is a 'healthy' choice. It’s important now more than ever to stay informed about food and nutrition, especially in light of the convenience of delivery applications that could potentially increase portions and decrease nutritional value.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to the Standard American Diet with research supporting approaches such as the ketogenic diet. Characterized by high fat and low carbohydrate intake, this style of eating can provide significant health benefits without being overly restrictive or difficult to follow.

In conclusion, the Standard American Diet status quo is unhealthy due to its focus on poor dietary choices and lack of essential nutrients. Moving away from the cultural norm of over-indulging in processed and fast foods, and instead focusing on the benefits of plant-based whole grains, healthy fats, and nutrient-dense foods will help maintain overall health, reduce risks of chronic disease, and ensure wellbeing in the long term.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a typical American diet?

The typical American diet generally consists of processed foods, sugary drinks and snacks, limited fiber, dairy, and whole grains, and high amounts of fatty meats and refined carbs. As a result, it's easy to see why the average American struggles with health problems related to poor nutrition.

Why is the American diet called the sad diet?

The American diet is unfortunately often referred to as the SAD (Standard American Diet) due to its heavy reliance on refined sugar, fat, and processed food with very few plant-based foods.

This type of diet is unhealthy, leading to numerous health complications for those who follow it, thus earning it the saddening nickname of "the sad diet".

What do most American diets lack?

Most American diets lack essential vitamins and minerals, including calcium, essential fatty acids, folic acid, iron, magnesium, vitamin A, B12, C, and D, and vitamin E.

These nutrients are essential for proper growth and development, as well as for maintaining a healthy immune system. Without them, people are more likely to suffer from a variety of health problems, including anemia, fatigue, and weakened bones.

Fortunately, there are many ways to get there.

What is a typical American diet?

The typical American diet consists of highly processed foods that are high in salt, saturated fat, and added sugar, and low in arid, micronutrients, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables. This kind of diet increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other health issues.

It is important to make healthier choices when it comes to eating for better overall health and well-being.

What is the average American diet in a day?

The average American diet consists of excessive sugar, saturated fats, processed meats, and little to no fresh vegetables and whole grains. This largely sedentary lifestyle has been linked to a number of health issues like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

All in all, it's clear that the average American diet is not providing the necessary nutrients for overall health.


  • Michael Gonzales

    Michael Gonzales is a seasoned Health & Fitness Consultant, dedicated to helping individuals achieve their wellness goals. With extensive expertise in customizing fitness plans based on individual needs, he guides clients towards optimal health. Michael's passion for empowering others has made him a trusted resource in the industry. His comprehensive approach encompasses physical fitness and overall well-being, enabling remarkable transformations. For exceptional guidance and lasting results, rely on the expertise of Michael Gonzales, your partner in embracing a healthier lifestyle.

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