It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it does highlight once again that our standard modern diet comes up short on proper nutrition. Even back in 2004 this was the case. During that time, Gladys Block a professor of epidemiology and public health nutrition at the University of California, Berkeley, made a startling discovery: about one-third of the calories in the U.S. diet come from junk food.
Her findings were published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis and showed that three “food” groups (if you can call them that) made up about 25 percent of all calories consumed by Americans. Additionally, salty snacks and fruit-flavored drinks made up another five percent, which brought these “cheater” foods to a grand total of at least 30 percent of the American diet. Topping the list of these junk foods were soft drinks and sodas, pastries, conventional hamburgers, pizza and potato chips.
Yuck. That’s definitely not a balanced, nutritious diet.
Block observed, “What is really alarming is the major contribution of ‘empty calories’ in the American diet. We know people are eating a lot of junk food, but to have almost one-third of Americans’ calories coming from those categories is a shocker. It’s no wonder there’s an obesity epidemic in this country.”
Then Block weighed in on how this diet is robbing us nutritionally. “It’s important to emphasize that sweets, desserts, snacks and alcohol are contributing calories without providing vitamins and minerals. In contrast, such healthy foods as vegetables and fruits make up only 10 percent of the caloric intake in the U.S. diet. A large proportion of Americans are undernourished in terms of vitamins and minerals.”
Block was right then—and she’s right now, too.
In fact, we’ve not improved much as far as our intake of foods high in vitamin and mineral content. An August 2011 study published in the Journal of Nutrition indicates that dietary habits of a large population of our nation consistently fail to meet even the minimal intakes recommended in the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for many key nutrients.
In fact, the study concluded that, without dietary supplementation and other ways of supporting proper nutrient intake, many Americans don’t achieve even the minimum recommended micronutrient intake levels they need. The following nutrients are examples of where Americans—due to supplementation and other ways of supporting nutrient intake, not our diets—have at least minimum intake: vitamin B6, folate, zinc, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B12, phosphorous, iron, copper and selenium.
The study also revealed where Americans are really coming up short nutrient-wise and are well below the minimum daily requirements: vitamins A, C, D and E as well as magnesium and calcium. The study indicates that 35 percent don’t get enough vitamin A; 25 percent lack enough vitamin C; 70 percent go without adequate vitamin D; 60 percent come up short on vitamin E; 45 percent fall short on magnesium, while 38 percent are lacking in calcium.
It’s also important to understand that the minimum daily requirement for a nutrient is usually defined as the lowest amount needed in order to not develop a deficiency that could have adverse health consequences. The minimum daily requirement should not be confused with amounts of nutrients that may be required for optimal health, however.
Any way you look at it, though, many Americans are being cheated out of adequate nutrition due to their food selections. If you’re one of them, stop cheating yourself and choose foods that are packed with nutrition, not so-called foods that give you nothing but empty calories and little to no nutrition in return.