Although not a well-defined term or standardized in terms of ingredients, the Standard American Diet in general is considered a diet that is high in refined and processed foods (63% of calories), animal-based foods (25% of calories), and minimal plant-based foods (12% of calories). When you take a closer look at the 12% of calories coming from plant-based foods, unfortunately about half of those calories come from processed plant-based foods like French fries. Food composition is considered a major defining criterion of the Standard American Diet, but one additional criteria is the total number of daily calories. From the 1950’s to about 2008, the average calorie intake increased from 1,900 kcal per person to 2,661. We are eating greater amounts of poorer quality foods, and it is making our country extremely sick! The unhealthy outputs of all of this includes obesity, increased risk for chronic diseases (i.e. Diabetes) and cancer. To make matters worse, it turns out that animal food production and processing is also quite bad for the environment in terms of US freshwater contamination (over 50% of US streams can no longer sustain aquatic life) and the production of greenhouse gases.
Processed foods refers to any food that is changed, prepared or packaged before we eat it. The processing often includes the addition of preservatives, sweeteners, oils, colors, and sometimes fortification with minerals, vitamins and fiber. The amount of processing can be minimal, such as roasted nuts or frozen fruits, or it can be highly or ultra-processed foods like snack foods, and ready to eat meals. Even many organic food products are considered processed. Ultra-processed food (and drink) products are manufactured to be ready to drink, or heat up and eat. They also contain additives to imitate sensory proprieties of food overwhelming your taste buds. The main problem with processed foods is the high doses of sodium, the added sugars, and unhealthy fats. The sugar factor is especially important, because most of the added sugars are quickly absorbed into the blood. One more challenge related to processed and ultra-processed foods, is they distort your sense of taste, making healthier unprocessed foods less tasty and desirable.
According to the USDA, for most people about 1,000 daily calories come from added fats and sweeteners. The USDA 2015-2020 Dietary guidelines for Americans recommends 1.5-2 cups of fruit per day, and 2-3 cups of vegetables per day as part of a healthy diet to reduce the risk for diet-related chronic diseases, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancers and obesity. Unfortunately, according to a recent report from the CDC, only 1 in 10 adults meet these federal fruit and vegetable recommendations. When it comes to children, they have started to eat more fruit in recent times, but the same is not true for vegetables, and both are consumed less than the recommended amounts.
Consider your own diet. Where are you with your fruits and veggies? How much processed foods do you eat daily? Remember the saying, you are what you eat!
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