What is the Standard American Diet?
The Standard American Diet, or Western Pattern Diet, is what the majority of Americans eat regularly. It has been associated with a rise in chronic diseases and conditions. As other countries adopt our way of eating, they also see a rise in obesity and chronic diseases.
Our Standard American Diet is made up of red meat, chicken, refined grains, and highly processed foods. We get the majority of our calories from refined grain products, and eat large amounts of salt, sugar, animal fats and hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Those refined grain products have little fiber and nutrition, because whole grains spoil quickly. Our shelf stable breads don’t rot, because they have little nutritive value in them.
The fruits and vegetables we do eat have been bred for longevity and appearance, not taste or nutrition. Eating them is better than the processed bakery products, but they aren’t as tasty and thus not eaten often enough.
We don’t eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, whether from local sources or not. A 2010 report from the National Cancer Institute shows that 3 out of 4 Americans don’t eat a single piece of fruit in a given day. Almost 9 out of 10 don’t eat the minimum recommended vegetables.
Each week, 96% of us don’t eat our minimum greens or beans, 98% don’t eat the minimum orange veggies, and 99% don’t eat enough whole grains.
Our Standard American Diet is highly processed, and not very diverse. Sugar, fat, and artificial flavorings have been added to processed foods to make them more appealing. Manufacturers spend a lot of money to tweak their product to appeal to our palate the most. They do that by optimizing flavor and texture, not nutrition.
Current eating patterns in the US show that most of us are following this diet, not getting enough of the good foods and eating too many of the bad ones.
Rise in health problems due to the Standard American Diet
Our poor diet has been associated with a rise in chronic diet-related diseases. These include diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and some cancers.
Granted, we have also seen changes to our lifestyles (less sleep, less exercise) and environment (more chemicals and pollutants), which could also be factors in our increase in disease.
We have also seen rises in autoimmune diseases. Diet may cause a role in this rise as well.
There is a lot of misinformation out there, and food manufacturers want us to be confused. The truth is we are getting sicker, and diet likely plays a large role in this.
In addition, diet is something that you can control. You can make changes to optimize your health even if there are other influences you can’t affect.
Diversity in the Standard American Diet
The USDA Economic Research Service maintains databases of data on what foods we buy. This database shows that there is not a lot of diversity in the Standard American Diet.
Our favorite fruits are apples and oranges, mostly as juice. Bananas are by far our favorite fresh fruit. Juice is high in sugars and lacks fiber. Bananas are also high in sugar.
Our favorite vegetable is potatoes, followed by tomatoes. Potatoes can be healthy but should be considered a carbohydrate. Tomatoes are popular but mostly come from cans.
Clearly we don’t eat a large variety of fruits and vegetables. Eating local and in season can improve the diversity in your diet. You can find many different options in the Baltimore Foodshed.
Besides produce, those following the Standard American Diet are not eating a variety of grains either. We eat mostly white flour, in baked goods that are meant to sit on the shelf for an extended period. Added sugars abound in those foods as well.
Our meat, as well, is often fed a grain based diet rather than a more natural option. Animals are bred and fed to optimize time to slaughter, not for taste or nutrition.
Using Local Food to Fight the Standard American Diet
Visiting your local farmers market or joining a CSA can help you improve your diet! You can find a great variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as local meats, grains, baked goods, and dairy items.
Eating locally and in season means eating foods grown under optimal conditions and as fresh as possible. In season produce is grown for taste and nutrition, picked ripe, and delivered to you quickly.
Eating local animal products means finding animals bred and fed for taste and nutrition. The animals and the environment benefit. You can find organic and sustainably raised options rather than feedlot foods.
Eating local flours and grains means you can enjoy whole grain foods that are fresh and nutritious, not stripped of essential nutrients nor rancid because the nutrients have degraded.
When you eat local, food tastes good and is good for you. You get more diversity in your diet, and you find yourself eating the whole grains and fresh produce that your body needs because they taste great. It’s fun to see what is available each week, and you want to eat it because it is delicious!
In addition, you help your community grow. Often those in poverty are those most affected by the Standard American Diet. They don’t have the resources to buy fresh produce nor the ability to find it locally.
The more local food options we have, the more available they become to those who need them. Those in need can find SNAP an option at their markets, helping your whole community become healthier.
A community that eats well has less health problems, and is a happier, more productive community!