If you ask people around world to describe staples of their cuisine, there’s no doubt you’ll receive an wide range of answers describing delicious foods – from wheat noodles in China to bean porridge in Nigeria and gyros in Greece.
But how would you expect Americans to describe our staple foods?
In fact, there’s an acronym for the American diet: SAD, which stands for standard American diet. And while it’s disappointing to admit, our food patterns really are sad.
It is widely known that Americans consume large quantities of added sugar, sodium, unhealthy fats, and fried foods, most commonly in the form of processed foods. Consistent intake of these compounds can result in increased risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
There’s plenty of data to support these claims. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) shows that 37% of American adults consumed fast food filled with deep fried, salty, and sugary foods and beverages between 2013-2016.
Even more alarming, the survey also showed that 50% of American adults consume at least one sugar-sweetened beverage a day, which accounted for an extra 179 and 113 calories per day for men and women, respectively.
Unfortunately, refined grains and added fats have been the main contributors to increased calorie intake in most Americans.
So how do we fix this problem? Americans are missing out on essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that come from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, which are not being prioritized in the average diet.
Here are some of my top strategies for creating a healthier version of the Standard American Diet:
• Review the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” The first step to eating healthy is to understand what exactly we need to feed our bodies. The dietary guidelines are reviewed and released every five years with new nutrition standards Americans should aim to achieve. Give this guide a look-over to understand how to start making healthy changes that are backed by science.
• Make half of your plate vegetables. Even if you plan to eat a burger or fried chicken for dinner, there’s no disputing how essential vegetables are to that meal. Vegetables will help keep you full because they are a great source of fiber and will prevent you from going back for seconds of the fattier meats. Try to include a starchy and non-starchy veggie at mealtimes. Starchy veggies serve as your carbohydrate source; they include foods like peas, potatoes, and corn. Non-starchy veggies are broccoli, carrots, onions, mushrooms, and asparagus, among many others.
• When eating fast food, choose a nutrient-dense option. We all are short on time and find ourselves in a pinch and needing something to eat on the go every now and then. If fast food is your only option, make it your mission to select a healthier alternative like the grilled chicken instead of fried, or a salad instead of a burger. Watch your condiment intake; you can do so by asking for them on the side. Instead of choosing french fries, choose a fruit cup as your side.
• Find a new crunch factor. Most Americans would agree potato chips, pretzels, and crackers are the perfect crunchy snack to appease our taste buds. Unfortunately, these foods are highest in sodium and are a refined grain containing little nutrition. Swap typical American snacks such as these for a better-for-you crunchy food — nuts, seeds, and carrots are my top choices.
• Make your own tasty beverage. It is crazy how many Americans rely on sugary drinks for energy. Well, spoiler alert, this energy is not very long lasting at all and will only lead to a major sugar crash. I get it, plain water isn’t always appetizing. I suggest opting for seltzer water or adding fruit and herbs to plain water to give it that sweet taste you desire. You’ll cut back on the calories and added sugar which is a sure-fire way to lose or maintain weight rather than gain it.
Try out these simple steps yourself to help make the Standard American Diet not so sad. There’s always room to enjoy out favorite treats but having them as staples in our diet won’t bode well for our health.
Hopefully, one day American cuisine will not always be defined by unhealthy foods. We can do our part to make this happen by choosing the healthy option consistently.
For more advice about healthy diet and lifestyle choices, visit Kelly’s Choice Nutritional Company.
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