You are probably used to the stereotypical American diet—all supersized- burgers, fries, soda. Maybe you’ve pondered on how scarce American snacks are in Canada. But have you ever wondered why Americans eat unhealthy foods?
The truth is the American food system favors highly processed junk food over healthy foods. The results are pretty scary: skyrocketing obesity rates and an explosion of preventable diseases like diabetes. And, of course, a generation of kids who have never tasted a vegetable that wasn’t smothered in cheese or kids who eat fewer vegetables altogether. It’s hard not to wonder why Americans eat willfully addictive junk food.
In this article, we’ll unveil why Americans’ food supply is awash with bulk calories.
Why Is American Food so Unhealthy
The Rise of Highly Processed Foods
The food industry discovered long ago that highly processed foods have a much longer shelf life and higher profit margins. As a result, grocery stores are filled with packed foods instead of healthy foods. Unfortunately, packaged foods tend to be high in calories.
Highly processed foods are loaded with preservatives to prevent spoilage and extend shelf life. Things like BHT, BHA, and TBHQ may be hard to pronounce. But they’re in tons of snacks, baked goods, and bottled drinks. Many additives are used to enhance color, flavor, and texture. Who knows what long-term effects these chemicals may have? Guess what? The average American diet consists of these chemicals.
To compensate for the lack of fresh ingredients, processed foods contain tons of sugar, fat, and salt. Sugar hides under names like high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, and dextrose. Overeating of these ingredients is a fast track to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health issues.
Lack of Nutrition
Highly processed foods have little nutritional value. They lack fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in whole foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. These “food-like substances” fill you up but don’t properly nourish your body. No wonder obesity and malnutrition can go hand in hand! Let’s not forget the fact that lack of nutrition can also affect the growth and development of a child.
Larger Portion Sizes in America
American portion sizes have exploded over the past few decades. Everything seems to be supersized, from fast food to restaurant dishes to snacks and beverages. Maintaining a healthy weight can be tough when you’re served way more calories than you need in one sitting.
Think about this: a burger, fries, and a soda can easily top 1,500 calories, while some entrées at chain restaurants contain a whole day’s worth of calories and fat. The truth is, most people simply can’t burn off these mega-meals with normal daily activity.
Snacks and Treats
Even snacks and treats have become huge. A slice of cheesecake or brownie can be 500-1000 calories. And don’t get us started on muffins, which are often more like cupcakes in disguise. When treats are that big, gaining weight without realizing it is easy. Moderation and portion control are key.
What You Can Do
To avoid an unhealthy diet, do the following:
- Ask for a take-home box as soon as your food arrives, and put half the meal away before you start eating.
- Share an entrée with a friend or split a dessert. Two forks are better than one!
- Choose smaller-sized options like a burger without the bun, a side salad instead of fries, or a single scoop of ice cream.
- Pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues to stop eating when satisfied.
High Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup Levels
Another major contributor to the unhealthy nature of American food is the high amounts of sugar and high fructose corn syrup. These sweeteners are highly addictive and added to nearly everything.
The average American consumes way above the recommended sugar intake yearly, much of which comes from highly processed foods and sugary drinks.
Sugary soda, fruit juices, candy, and baked goods are loaded with sugar yet provide little nutritional value. Consuming too much sugar is linked to weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other health issues.
Heavy Reliance on Unhealthy Fats
Heavy reliance on unhealthy fats is one of the biggest reasons the American diet is pretty unhealthy. For decades, the food industry has pushed highly processed vegetable oils, margarine, and shortening made from soybean, canola, or corn oil. These oils are high in inflammatory omega-6 and trans fats. All of these promote weight gain, heart disease, and other health issues when consumed excessively.
Furthermore, many processed and fast foods in America contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils high in artery-clogging trans fats.
Inflammatory omega-6 fats like soybean, corn, and canola oil are in many products, from salad dressings and mayonnaise to potato chips and french fries.
While omega-6 fats are essential in moderation, the average American diet contains up to 20 times more omega-6s than omega-3s. This promotes inflammation in the body.
To improve your health and diet, avoid heavily processed fast foods. And choose whole foods made with traditional fats like olive, avocado, Flaxseed, or coconut oil.
Look for “no trans fat” and “no hydrogenated oil” on nutrition labels and ingredient lists. When eating out, ask for olive oil instead of vegetable oil and hold the margarine.
Sedentary Lifestyles and Less Home Cooking
These days, fewer Americans cook meals at home or get enough exercise. Unfortunately, eating unhealthy food and drinks affects their health.
Many of them spend their days sitting—at desks doing computer work, in cars and buses commuting, or on the couch watching TV and scrolling through their phones.
The average American spends over 10 hours a day looking at screens. When they have free time, they are likelier to choose sedentary hobbies like gaming, shopping online, or streaming shows. All this sitting and inactivity means they burn fewer calories and gain more weight.
Less Home Cooking
Decades ago, most American families ate home-cooked meals every night. Now, they are likelier to pick up fast food, order takeout, or heat-premade frozen dinners. Home-cooked meals are healthier, with more whole foods and fewer processed ingredients, sugar, and salt.
Eating out more often, especially fast food, is associated with weight gain and health issues like diabetes and heart disease.
Tips to Improve Your Health and Diet
Opting for unhealthy food is easy, but you can consciously develop healthy eating habits.
- Cook more meals at home using fresh ingredients. It’s easier than you think!
- Squeeze in exercise whenever you can, like taking the stairs, walking on your breaks at work, or doing an at-home workout a few times a week.
- Limit screen time and choose active hobbies like walking, biking, gardening, or joining a local sports league.
- Make healthy swaps when eating out, like a side salad instead of fries, a whole grain wrap instead of white bread, or grilled chicken instead of fried.
- Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water, which can boost your metabolism and fill you up.
- Stick to the perimeter during your shopping- you’ll find healthy food.
Simple lifestyle changes to eat better and move more can greatly benefit your health and fitness. You’ll feel so much better and may shed some pounds! Every small improvement counts.
Hopefully, you’ve gained valuable insights into why American food has developed such an unhealthy reputation. Now, if you are curious about counseling grieving children or mental health child support, we’ve got the most detailed post on them here.
The truth is there are many complex reasons. From consumer demand to agricultural practices – they have all contributed to the rise of processed, unhealthy foods loaded with sugar, fat, and salt.
But the good news is, the tide seems to be turning. More Americans are waking up and demanding objective, nutritious food.
Farmers markets, organic brands, and home cooking are making a comeback. So do your part – support companies making the healthy choice the easy choice. Eat more plants and less junk. You’d be glad!