Trying to clean up your diet, lose weight, or just dip your toe in the waters of healthy living?
While we tend to focus a large amount of time and energy on avoiding the foods we shouldn’t be eating, it’s equally important to focus on foods that we’re not eating enough of.
After all, it’s not enough to simply take a food away: that food also needs to be replaced with a healthier alternative.
Below, we’ve got the details on the foods statistics show Americans just aren’t eating enough of: focus on these areas to shore up your weak spots and green your routine.
It’s probably not a complete surprise that vegetables find themselves firmly atop this list. And while you might assume that you’re consuming enough veggies each day, you may be surprised to find that less than 10% of American adults consume enough vegetables on a daily basis. So unless you find yourself amongst that top tier, there’s a high likelihood you could do better.
Making matters worse, the majority of vegetables that we are consuming are from some pretty nutritionally poor sources. Prepare yourself for this, but the vegetables that we as Americans are consuming are mainly in the form of potatoes and pizza sauce (1).
And while vegetables may seem eye-rollingly cliche in the context of health status, the simple matter is that they’re important, and most of us don’t eat enough of the right ones, period. Vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, water, and a high volume of food for a relatively few number of Calories.
Avoid starchy vegetables (including peas, corn, potatoes, and sweet potatoes) in favor of leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, and other non-starchy picks. Starchy vegetables contain more carbohydrate and Calories, which can interfere with weight and/or blood sugar management.
Studies have repeatedly shown that – when prepared appropriately and consumed in sufficient quantities – vegetable consumption has an inverse association with coronary heart disease and mortality risk (2,3).
Sorry, fish and chips and coconut shrimp don’t count. While breaded, fried, and other unhealthy picks should definitely get the boot, 80% of Americans don’t consume enough fish, and that’s not a good thing.
Fish – fatty fish in particular – are a great sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce risk for heart disease (4,5). Higher fish intake has also been associated with a lower risk for Alzheimer’s Disease and Breast Cancer (6,7).
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Additionally, fatty fish are high in dietary Vitamin D, of which many Americans are deficient. A number of studies have shown that a deficiency of Vitamin D is related to a number of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as bone loss. Currently, more than 41% of US Adults are deficient (8,9).
While most Americans are doing far better on fruit consumption than vegetable consumption, we’re still not quite hitting the mark: only 12% of Americans consume enough fruit each day (10). And – as with vegetables – the types we’re consuming aren’t the best.
Often, fruit juice and dried fruit – both of which are concentrated sources of sugar – are chosen in lieu of fresh, whole fruit.
It’s crucial to remember that, while cliché, fruit and vegetable consumption is of vital importance, especially with regards to disease prevention and total mortality risk. Large global studies have shown that individuals who consume more than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day have a 20 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke when compared to those who consume less than 3 servings per day (11).
Rich in protective phytochemicals known as flavonoids, tea has been shown to promote healthy endothelial function, and reduce total and LDL cholesterol, a boon for heart health. Additionally, tea has been shown to reduce risk for stroke and certain forms of cancer (12,13,14).
While many Americans aren’t accustomed to the herby notes of unsweetened tea, the sky-high sugar content in sweetened tea beverages ultimately acts against the healthfulness of the tea itself. Skip sweetened tea beverages, such as Chai Tea and Iced Sweet Tea, in favor of brewed, unsweetened green or black teas.
Probiotics are a hot topic. Unfortunately, most Americans opt to consume probiotics in the form of supplements, which are not regulated or well-studied.
For those who do opt to consume probiotics in whole form, sweetened varieties of yogurt have become the norm.
And while these are undoubtedly tasty, their high sugar content comes at a cost. Sugar is directly related to increased risk for Obesity, Type II Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (15,16,17,18).
Even if you’re not buying pre-sweetened blends, remember that adding honey, maple syrup, agave, or other sweeteners is just as bad: the calories, sugar content, and metabolic impact is the same as good old white sugar.
The next time you look for a whole food source of probiotics, look for something without added sugar: plain, whole milk yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, or miso are all good choices.
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USDA. Potatoes and tomatoes are the most commonly consumed vegetables.https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/gallery/chart-detail/?chartId=58340. Accessed on May 4 2018.
Steffen LM Et Al. Associations of whole-grain, refined-grain, and fruit and vegetable consumption with risks of all-cause mortality and incident coronary artery disease and ischemic stroke: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. Am J Clin Nutr.2003 Sep;78(3):383-90.
Dauchet L, Amouyel P, Hercberg S, Dallongeville J.Fruit and vegetable consumption and risk of coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis of cohort studies. J Nutr. 2006 Oct;136(10):2588-93.
Kris-Etherton PM, Harris W, Appel L. Fish Consumption, Fish Oil, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation. 2002;106:2747-2757
Mori TA.Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: epidemiology and effects on cardiometabolic risk factors. Food Funct. 2014 Sep;5(9):2004-19
Zheng JS, Hu XJ, Zhao YM, Yang J, Li D. Intake of fish and marine n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of breast cancer: meta-analysis of data from 21 independent prospective cohort studies. BMJ. 2013 Jun 27;346:f3706. doi: 10.1136/bmj.f3706.
Wu S, Ding Y, Wu F, Li R, Hou J, Mao P.Omega-3 fatty acids intake and risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease: a meta-analysis.Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2015 Jan;48:1-9.
Forrest KY, Stuhldreher WL.Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults. Nutr Res.2011 Jan;31(1):48-54. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2010.12.001.
Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2010.
CDC. Only 1 in 10 Adults Get Enough Fruits or Vegetables. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p1116-fruit-vegetable-consumption.html. Accessed on May 4 2018.
He, F.J., et al., Increased consumption of fruit and vegetables is related to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease: meta-analysis of cohort studies. J Hum Hypertens, 2007. 21(9): p. 717-28.
Arab L, Liu W, Elashoff D. Green and black tea consumption and risk of stroke: a meta-analysis. Stroke. 2009;40:1786-92.
Lee AH, Su D, Pasalich M, Binns CW. Tea consumption reduces ovarian cancer risk. Cancer Epidemiol. 2013;37:54-9.
Nechuta S, Shu XO, Li HL, et al. Prospective cohort study of tea consumption and risk of digestive system cancers: results from the Shanghai Women’s Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96:1056-63.
Siervo M, et al. Sugar consumption and global prevalence of obesity and hypertension: an ecological analysis. Public Health Nutr. 2014 Mar;17(3):587-96.
DiNicolantonio JJ, Lucan SC, O’Keefe JH.The Evidence for Saturated Fat and for Sugar Related to Coronary Heart Disease. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2016 Mar-Apr;58(5):464-72.
Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, Flanders WD, Merritt R, Hu FB.Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults.JAMA Intern Med. 2014 Apr;174(4):516-24.
Weeratunga P, Jayasinghe S, Perera Y, Jayasena G, Jayasinghe S.Per capita sugar consumption and prevalence of diabetes mellitus–global and regional associations. BMC Public Health. 2014 Feb
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