Americans Still Eating Too Many Low-Quality Carbs and Too Much Saturated Fat

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
December 14, 2019
Americans Still Eating Too Many Low-Quality Carbs and Too Much Saturated Fat

Do you eat a healthy diet? If you’re like most people, you probably said “yes.” About 75% of Americans claim to eat healthy diets. But most of us do not.

As of 2015, 76 percent of Americans weren’t eating enough fruit and 87 percent weren’t eating enough vegetables. Our portion sizes continue to increase and the current obesity rate exceeds 35 percent in nine states, 30 percent in 31 states and 25 percent in 48 states. And now a new “report card” on dietary trends shows that Americans eat too many low-quality carbohydrates and more than the recommended daily amount of saturated fat, according to a study published in JAMA.

Researchers from Tufts University and Harvard University collected dietary data from 43,996 American adults via the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Participants represented the diverse American population and completed at least one 24-hour dietary recall as part of NHANES between 1999 and 2016. Data was assessed using USDA's Food and Nutrition Database for Dietary Studies to estimate nutrient intake and the Healthy Eating Index to measures overall quality of diet and adherence to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 

According to the guidelines, carbohydrates should make up between 45 and 65 percent of your diet and the balance should be high-quality carbohydrates from fruit, vegetables and whole grains. But after analyzing 18-years of data, researchers found the typical American diet comprises only nine percent high-quality carbohydrates and 42 percent from low-quality carbohydrates such as refined carbs, added sugars and starchy vegetables. While researchers noticed a two percent drop in overall carbohydrate intake and three percent drop in refined carbohydrates over time, Americans are still eating too many refined carbohydrates, which raise the risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The other red flag was the one percent increase in fat intake. Only half percent was saturated fat, but the increase means most diets constitute 12 percent fat, as opposed to the recommended 10 percent. 

“Nutrition studies have limitations. Researchers rely on participants recalling their food intake. And since memories aren’t always accurate, the data is often flawed,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “But even if the data is off, it’s not that far off. We clearly have an obesity problem that experts attribute to excessive calories, refined carbs and high-fat foods.”

Results also suggested that Americans are getting most of their protein from red and processed meats. Far less heart-healthy proteins like fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, nuts, seeds and legumes are being consumed.  

Americans in higher income brackets made more positive changes than Americans earning lower incomes. And researchers didn’t find improvements among Americans older than 50, participants with less than a high school education or those living below poverty level. 

“Sound nutrition remains a public health issue. Physicians are a great source of nutrition information, so discuss your diet with your doctor and be sure to consult them before making any major changes,” Kaminetsky says.

If you don’t have a doctor, consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. MDVIP doctors have the time to help you develop a diet appropriate for your health needs. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health » 


This blog was reviewed on October 20, 2021.

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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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