Understanding the Standard American Diet: Pros, Cons & More

Fat Food

What Is the Standard American Diet?

The Standard American Diet (appropriately abbreviated SAD) is a diet followed by the majority of Americans. It is also known as the Western Pattern Diet. Red meat, chicken, refined grains, and artificially processed foods are the main components. The majority of calories come from grain products, such as bread, rolls, bagels, pizza, and desserts. The diet is high in sodium, sugar, animal fats, and hydrogenated vegetable oils.

White flour is used more often than whole-wheat, especially in the consumption of sweets. Grain-based desserts such as cookies, cupcakes, brownies, and pastries are common-place treats found within the homes of many. Added sugars are found in beverages (including soft drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks, and coffee).

The majority of people following this diet do not meet their daily recommended value for many nutrients. This diet is low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Potatoes and tomatoes account for the majority of vegetable intake. Americans following this diet tend to eat approximately 50% carbohydrates, 15% protein, and 35% fat.

Are There Any Pros to This Diet?

While the Standard American Diet has many drawbacks, these pluses make millions of Americans continue to follow it. They are:

  • Ease – This is the easiest diet to follow in the United States because you can get the food anywhere, anytime. Since it’s the typical diet of an American, you can shop for food at your local grocery store or convenience market. If you do not have the time to shop, you can go to any restaurant or fast-food joint and order anything on the menu. Likely, your food will be highly processed, with tons of added salt and sugar. There is no thought needed to follow this diet.
  • Cost – Plain and simple, a western diet is cheap. Processed foods made in a laboratory with a gazillion ingredients are very cheap to produce. Grocery store sales and coupons are often found for these items, not for produce and whole grains. The dollar menu at fast food places don’t sell kale salads, but rather burgers, fries, and milkshakes. For saving money in the short-term, the Standard American Diet is hard to beat.

Health Concerns with the Diet

If “diet” is correlated with being healthy, then the Standard American Diet cannot be called a diet at all. Seven out of the ten leading causes of death are from chronic diseases. Two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, along with one-third of children. The Western Pattern Diet is killing us all.

Americans following this diet tend to overdo it on sodium, sugar, and trans fats, leading to a caloric intake much higher than needed. Excess dietary salt contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Excess sugar is linked to weight gain, acne, depression, and numerous diseases. Trans fats should not be eaten at all, due to their direct associations with many cancers and disorders.

While people are overindulging in fattening items, they are also falling short in meeting their nutritional guidelines. Only one out of 10 Americans eat enough recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. In addition, there is a great lack of food diversity, which directly contributes to nutritional deficiencies.

When you eat the same foods each week, you are bound to miss out on essential vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy life. Calcium, potassium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D are below the levels they should be for most people who follow this diet.
Healthy Food

What Can I Do?

If you are fed up with the way you’ve been taught to eat your entire life, it is never too late to make changes that can benefit the well-being of you and those you love. Adopting healthy lifestyle changes take time, so begin with these seven tips:

  • Review Your Eating Habits – Record your meals and portion sizes over a two-week period. Note which food groups seem to dominate your plate. Doing so will help you to determine possible nutritional deficiencies. This will be an eye-opening experiment to help you become mindful about what is needed to improve your health.
  • Eat the Rainbow – Each meal should include fruits and vegetables. Aim for at least five fruits and vegetable servings per day, and increase the amount from there when you can. Use this graphic to understand the health benefits behind each color.
  • Use Less Meat – Many of us overdo it on meats, including red meat, poultry, and even seafood. Decide that you will use meat as a garnish for your meals, instead of as the main meal itself. To switch things up, fill up your plate with vegan protein sources.
  • Cut Portion Sizes – We do not need more than four ounces of meat per day, yet most restaurant portion sizes at least double that! Pasta dishes are typically four times what we need to eat. If you are eating out, request a box at the beginning of your meal so you don’t eat too much.
  • Adopt a New Diet – The Standard American Diet is not a recommended diet to follow. Instead, choose a whole-foods diet that emphasizes quality food, such as the Clean-Eating or Mediterranean diet. 100 Days of Real Food and The Mediterranean Dish have resources to help you get started on your journey to better health.
  • Clean Your Pantry – Remove all highly processed foods (those with more than five ingredients) from your pantry, and stock it with nutritious, whole foods instead. Surrounding yourself with healthy foods will make you eat them!
  • Learn to Cook – To avoid the detriments of the Standard American Diet, you will have to get accustomed to cooking meals from scratch at home. Purchase a cookbook from a clean-eating blogger or find recipes online. You can also follow your favorite online wellness blogs and magazines to discover how wonderfully delicious and healthy real foods can be!

About the Author
Dr. Michael Donaldson is a chemical engineering graduate of Cornell University and now Research Director of the Hallelujah Diet. He has spent the last 18 years studying people who have experienced health benefits through diet and published scientific research on its benefits for fighting fibromyalgia, cancer, diabetes, and other ailments. His work consists of designing and coordinating epidemiologic and clinical intervention studies based on specific symptoms or diseases and focuses on the results of the Hallelujah Diet.

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