We use the phrase “Standard American Diet” to describe the stereotypical diet of Americans. But what does the standard American diet actually look like? According to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, 32 percent of our calories comes from animal foods, 57 percent from processed plant foods, and only 11 percent from whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. That means on a scale of one to ten, the American diet would rate about a one.
Adhering to just four simple healthy lifestyle factors may have a strong impact on chronic disease prevention: not smoking, not being obese, getting a daily half hour of exercise, and eating healthier—defined as consuming more fruits, veggies, and whole grains, and less meat. Those four factors alone were found to account for 78 percent of chronic disease risk. If we ticked off all four, we may be able to wipe out more than 90 percent of our risk of developing diabetes, more than 80 percent of our heart attack risk, halve our risk of stroke, and reduce our overall cancer risk by more than one-third.
WHAT IS THE STANDARD AMERICAN DIET?
- 63% of America’s calories come from refined and processed foods (e.g. soft drinks, packaged snacks like potato chips, packaged desserts, etc.)
- 25% of America’s calories come from animal-based foods
- 12% of America’s calories come from plant-based foods
Unfortunately, half of the plant-based calories (6%) come from french fries. That means only 6% of America’s calories are coming from health-promoting fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
There’s a good reason we abbreviate standard American diet to S.A.D. The standard American diet leads to standard American diseases that lead to standard American deaths.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
To turn this ship around and change the western diet, we need to spread the word about the whole-food, plant-based diet, which is the only diet that has been scientifically shown to prevent and reverse chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Plant-based diets focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. It doesn’t mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy. Rather, you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources.
Mediterranean and vegetarian diets
What is the evidence that plant-based eating patterns are healthy? Much nutrition research has examined plant-based eating patterns such as the Mediterranean diet and a vegetarian diet. The Mediterranean diet has a foundation of plant-based foods; it also includes fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt a few times a week, with meats and sweets less often.
A whole-foods, plant-based diet is a way of eating that celebrates plant foods and cuts out unhealthy items like added sugars and refined grains. Plant-based diets have been linked to a number of health benefits, including reducing your risk of heart disease, certain cancers, obesity, diabetes and cognitive decline.
Regardless of the type of whole-foods, plant-based diet you choose, adopting this way of eating is sure to boost your health.