various unhealthy foods to depict a standard american diet. Foods in image include donuts, fries in a deep fryer basket, hamburgers and soda

The standard American diet is deadly. Here are 7 ideas to start eating healthier

The United States of America is one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Despite this, they have one of the most unhealthy populations with decreasing access to healthy, fresh food. The standard American diet is one that, while cheap, promotes a whole host of health issues, including diabetes and heart disease. Unfortunately, for many, it’s all they can afford. There are things that the government can start doing, however, to make a healthier diet more accessible for all. Here are seven ways this can happen.

What Is The Standard American Diet?

The standard American diet is making Americans sick, there’s no question about it. Diabetes and heart disease are rampant, and diet-related deaths outrank smoking-related deaths in the country and around the world. There are almost 900 deaths daily in the United States related to poor diet. When you abbreviate the “standard American diet”, it makes the short-form S.A.D. – and sad it is (1, 2):

Advertisement
  • 65% of Americans’ calories come from refined and processed foods like pop, packaged snacks such as potato chips, and packaged desserts.
  • 25% come from animal-based foods.
  • 12% come from plant-based foods.
  • Half of the plant-based calories (so 6%) come from french fries.

This means that only 6% of the calories that most Americans consume daily come from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Looking at the stats, it’s not hard to see why so many people in the United States suffer from chronic diseases, obesity, type-2 diabetes, and more.

Advertisement

Ways We Can Improve The Standard American Diet

In order to make the standard American diet one that promotes health rather than disease, there are a few things that need to be changed. These changes need to be in policy, in the medical system, in our schools, and in how we make food available to the underprivileged. These are just seven things that, if put in place, could drastically improve the standard American diet and improve the health of the nation.

Advertisement

1. Food as Preventative Medicine

Western medicine is decisively reactive rather than proactive. We wait until someone is sick, then we prescribe medicines to try and make them better or manage their symptoms. If instead we intervened earlier and helped them improve their diet and lifestyle, many of the health problems Americans face could be avoided.

Advertisement

Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, says that there is a movement to better integrate food and nutrition into healthcare. This movement includes actually prescribing and providing healthy meals and/or healthy groceries to patients to help manage diet-related illnesses. There is increasing amounts of evidence that fruit and vegetable prescriptions actually work at improving people’s health outcomes. There are projects being piloted around the country where health care systems or insurers provide or pay for healthy groceries, as well as provide nutrition education, to help people improve their eating habits. (3, 4)

Another option is medically prescribing and providing tailored meals to help those who are already sick to reverse their chronic diseases. There is currently a pilot project by the federal government where Medicaid or Medicare pays for these meals in several states. (5)

Read: Why the Government Controls the Color of Our Food

Trending Now

Should I Eat or Avoid Falafel?
Should I Eat or Avoid Falafel?
Bruce Willis has become first Hollywood actor to sell rights to 'digit...
Bruce Willis has become first Hollywood actor to sell rights to 'digit...
This single mom built her entire house by watching YouTube tutorials
This single mom built her entire house by watching YouTube tutorials
PETA calls for women to go on a sex strike against men who eat meat
PETA calls for women to go on a sex strike against men who eat meat
The Connection Between Verbal Abuse and Anxiety Everyone Ignores
The Connection Between Verbal Abuse and Anxiety Everyone Ignores
Retailer rolls out ‘coffee balls’ to replace capsules
Retailer rolls out ‘coffee balls’ to replace capsules
Bill Gates released swarm of mosquitos into audience while talking abo...
Bill Gates released swarm of mosquitos into audience while talking abo...
Mike Tyson Reveals He is Suffering from Sciatica
Mike Tyson Reveals He is Suffering from Sciatica
Woman’s own immune system has possibly cured her of HIV
Woman’s own immune system has possibly cured her of HIV
Glow-in-the-dark roads trialled to reduce road toll, protect wildlife
Glow-in-the-dark roads trialled to reduce road toll, protect wildlife
Daily 'breath training' can work as well as medicine to reduce high bl...
Daily 'breath training' can work as well as medicine to reduce high bl...
He's In A Night Club Bathroom Washing His Hands. Now Keep Your Eyes On...
He's In A Night Club Bathroom Washing His Hands. Now Keep Your Eyes On...
Advertisement

2. Shift Focus on Quality, Not Just Quantity

Previously, most efforts to provide food for the less fortunate have been focused on the quantity of calories provided rather than the quality of those calories. For this reason, the food provided is highly processed, calorie-dense but nutritionally void food items. Those who use food stamps to buy food, for example, can get a lot more chips, sodas, and processed foods per stamp than they can fresh fruits and vegetables. These then are the chosen foods, leaving them with a diet of cheap calories that have little nutritional value. These programs have helped to address hunger, but what about health? 

Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, says that it is time to modernize the country’s food assistance programs. This means redesigning these programs to encourage people to buy healthier foods. For example, the GusNIP nutrition incentive program gives SNAP food stamp participants more fruits and vegetables. (6) Another program called the Double Bucks program doubles the value of SNAP benefits when used to buy produce at places like farmer’s markets and other stores. (7) These are both run in select communities. It is time to scale-up programs such as these to benefit the whole country.

Advertisement

3. More Access To Diet and Lifestyle Counseling

Seeking the help of a dietitian, nutritionist, personal trainer, or other lifestyle help has typically been something reserved for the wealthier people in the nation. Unfortunately, this means that often those who need nutrition and lifestyle education the most are priced out of it. The Affordable Care Act mandates that insurers cover diet counseling as preventative care for those at risk of chronic disease. The Task Force is recommending that more people be included in this, as well as things like healthy cooking classes and behavior change classes.

Advertisement

4. Support Healthy Food Entrepreneurs

The United States government needs to start doing more to support food entrepreneurs who are trying to start healthy food initiatives. We don’t need more high calorie, high fat, low nutrition processed foods on the market. We need health food innovation. This means providing loans and grants to food and nutrition-related companies whose values are focused on health, equity, and sustainability. This is especially so if these companies are focusing or existing in low-income communities.

Read: The Health Benefits Of Breath Control Exercises

Advertisement

5. More Farmers Growing Healthy Foods Using Sustainable Techniques

We don’t have enough fruit and vegetable production to support the market if the entire country began eating the recommended daily servings each day. To make this a viable target, we would need to incentivize more farmers to grow fruits and vegetables and to do so in a sustainable way. Programs to provide farmers with paid internships and apprenticeships to learn about sustainable farming. This would also be sufficient to cover a living wage and housing. Finally, this program would push for providing loans for farmers who choose to grow foods using sustainable practices rather than big monocultures.

Advertisement

6. Free School Meals For All

Healthy food can drastically improve outcomes for students and their learning. A hungry and/or malnourished student can’t concentrate and learn the same that a fed and nourished one can. There is a lunch program for underprivileged children in the United States, however, it is not functioning the way that it should. Many kids who need these, for a variety of reasons, don’t receive them. On top of that, there could be children who don’t qualify to receive them for free but whose lunches leave much to be nutritionally desired. During the pandemic, school lunches were made free for all students, proving that it is possible. This side-steps bureaucracy and improves absenteeism and academic success.

7. A National Director of Food and Nutrition 

The nation is in a food crisis. In order to turn it around, we need someone whose primary role is focused on improving access and education for the country. The Task Force recommends the government create a new position, the National Director of Food and Nutrition. This person would harmonize the current spending and organization of food and nutrition-related, health care-related, and chronic illness treatment-related initiatives. Their role would be to streamline and coordinate all of these programs and the people involved in them to make them work together and improve health incomes for the country.

Changing the standard American diet is difficult, but not impossible. If we focus on the right problems and their sustainable, long-term solutions, we will be better off for it. Spending a bit more to ensure every citizen of the United States has access to healthy food will decrease chronic illness and its strain on health care. The time to start is now.

Keep Reading: Daytime Naps Boost Your Heart and Brain Health, Reduce Stress and Much More

Sources

  1. The Standard American Diet is Even Sadder Than We Thought.” Forks Over Knives. May 23, 2016.
  2. Bad Diets Are Responsible For More Deaths Than Smoking, Global Study Finds.” NPR. Allison Aubrey. April 3, 2019.
  3. The U.S. diet is deadly. Here are 7 ideas to get Americans eating healthier.” NPR. Allison Aubrey. August 31, 2022.
  4. Support and leverage Produce Prescription programs as prevention & intervention for diet-related disease through federal policy change and further embedding this effective model into healthcare and community food systems.” National Produce Prescription
  5. FIMC MTM State-based Innovation.” FIM Coalition
  6. About GusNIP.” Nutrition Incentive Hub
  7. GET DOUBLE THE FRUITS & VEGGIES.” Double Up America
Julie Hambleton
Freelance Writer
Julie Hambleton has a BSc in Food and Nutrition from the Western University, Canada, is a former certified personal trainer and a competitive runner. Julie loves food, culture, and health, and enjoys sharing her knowledge to help others make positive changes and live healthier lives.
Advertisement