Friday, February 16, 2007

What Does our Diet Look Like?

On Wednesday I ended my post with:

The changes in our diet over the last forty years begs an important question - how are we able to consume copious and increasing amounts of sugar, vegetable oils and cereal grains while continuing to eat a similar level of animal foods?

Just what is going on in our metabolism that even makes that possible?

That was written after detailing how our diet changed between 1961 and 2000 - changes that included an increase of 934-calories; 80% of them from increased consumption of added sugars, cereal grains and vegetable oils; all while we ate less red meat, butter, and eggs.

The shocker - as a nation we consumed an average 3,817-calories per person each day in 2000.

So, I had to wonder, what does 3,817-calories in a day look like?

Using the FAO data for each food group and type, I pulled a menu together in an attempt to reach 3,817-calories with, as per the consumption data, 156g of fat, 115g of protein, 20g of alcohol and 450g of carbohydrate.

In the process I had to choose foods rich with soybean oil, added sugars and include an adequate level of cereal grains to try to match the consumption pattern suggested in the data; I also limited animal fats and proteins to align with the data to reach the dietary pattern the FAO data suggests we consumed each day in 2000.

Lastly, I attempted to make this menu as realistic as possible, where an individual might think they're eating healthy since recent surveys show the majority of people - 75% - actually do think they're eating healthy.

What does such a day of eating potentially look like if we create a menu based on the consumption data from 2000?

1 serving frozen pancakes, microwaved
2.5 small brown-and-serve pork sausage links
Pancake syrup
Coffee with sugar and non-dairy creamer
1/2 cup orange juice

Morning Snack & beverage
Low-fat Fruit Yogurt

1 cup mixed greens salad, 1/2 cup diced tomatoes, 1 medium slice onion
2 TBS salad dressing (composite to type, soybean oil based)
2-oz lean roast beef, 1 slice american cheese (plastic wrap type), 2 regular slices rye bread, mayonnaise
3/4 cup potato salad
1 small apple
Lemonade (made from powdered mix)

Afternoon Snack(s) & beverages
1-ounce tuna in water mixed with mayonnaise
6 reduced fat Wheat Thins
1 can regular soda
1 peanut butter cookie (packaged, soft style)
Bottle of water

3.9-oz chicken, white meat, skinless (vegetable oil, soybean, used in pan to saute chicken)
1 cup noodles, 1 tsp butter
1 cup green beans with onions, from frozen, margarine in ingredients
7.5 ounces red or white wine

After Dinner Snack
1 cup skim milk
Pretzels, reduced fat dip

Total Calories = 3,830
Fat = 152g
Carbohydrate = 472g; Fiber 21g; Net 451g
Protein = 125g
Alcohol = 20g

Just a bit over the estimated calorie intake (+13 calories), but the menu is exact for intake of beef, fish, poultry, pork, butter and eggs; notable is that there isn't an egg on the menu, it's in the prepared foods.

In this menu, the cereal grains, added sugars and soybean oil is very very close to the consumption estimate from the FAO.

Overall, in the above menu, almost 57% of the calories come from three things - cereal grains, vegetable oils and added sugars.

Yet it doesn't look like there are 4.5-tablespoons of soybean oil or a bit more than 3/4 of a cup of added sugars and with seven servings of grains, it's well within the dietary recommendation of six to ten servings each day.

It's also within the recommendation to keep saturated fat intake at or below 10% of calories, coming in with just 9% of calories from saturated fat.

But consider this - even with this level of calorie intake, the above menu does not meet the recommended intake for Potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Magnesium or Fiber! All those calories and anyone eating it is still deficient for essential nutrients, and even would consume 2.75-times the sodium without adding one shake of salt at the table!

And, while this menu contained just 9% of calories from saturated fat - a target most agree is desirable, no one would say the almost 12g (11.58g) of trans-fatty acids are acceptable, yet the above menu contains that much trans-fat!

This is but one scenario of a typical day's menu that might align with the consumption data for the United States in 2000; few eat all types of meat and fish in one day; the FAO data and ERS data is based on consumption averages - so while in the real world one day may be chicken and fish and another day beef or pork, over a week or month we consume an average number of calories from those foods.

The scary thing is the above menu isn't unreasonable for an average person to consume throughout the day, and many of the items I selected are considered "healthier" choices as per the dietary recommendations - the lowfat yogurt, wheat thins, tuna, rye bread, pretzels, skinless chicken breast, salad and green beans with onions, non-dairy creamer, skim milk, lean roast beef, and an apple - yet this menu is a nutritional nightmare - is it any wonder What We Eat in America, a report compiled using NHANES data, found chronic population-wide nutrient deficiency when published in 2005?

Which brings us to the second question asked above - just what is happening in our metabolism that allows us to eat that many calories?

We'll explore that question next week...


  1. Anonymous10:20 AM

    Over 3800 calories [i]on average[/i]!? What a shock! And considering that your sample menu doesn't include a fast-food cheeseburger and fries, any dairy treat, no pizza, no fried chicken, no soda (although lemonade made with sugar would be somewhat equivalent) it's positively conservative. Ack. Dr. Atkins, wherever you are, I thank you for bringing me to the light. And thank you, Regina, for fascinating analyses.

  2. There is one can of regular soda - it's in the afternoon snacks and drinks (I didn't hit the enter button, so it was on the same line as the wheat thins) - I just edited to include it on its own line in the list of snacks and beverages for the afternoon. I included a soda because the average person (not everyone, just the average person) does drink a soda a day (at least one).

    I resisted the temptation to draft a menu based on eating fast food because while many eat fast food, and some do it daily, I really wanted the menu to be something a person who is trying to choose healthy items might wind up with at that calorie level...something that many would "recognize" as perhaps how they're trying to eat and unaware of what it adds up to at the end of the day for vegetable oils, added sugars and cereal grains (processed/refined).

  3. Anonymous5:49 PM

    Wow. I'm quite surprised at how non-fast-foody that menu is, too. Any otherwise-intelligent non-low-carber I know would call that "healthy".

    I do believe that menu is commonly known as Everything In Moderation©.

  4. Anonymous10:23 AM

    Wow! That looks just like the sort of "healthy" food I used to eat before I became a low-carber. 3800 calories! No wonder I gained weight -- and yet I was hungry all the time. Right now I'm losing weight steadily on about 1700 calories a day and 20 carbs and nothing more than a little twinge of hunger occasionally. Thank you so much, Regina, for your postings -- they really turn mainstream nutrition upside down!