What Makes the Standard American Diet SAD?

In 2020, the US ranked 35th on the Bloomberg Global Health Index, indicating that the populations of 34 countries are healthier than ours.  Even though we spend almost twice as much on healthcare, our life expectancy is lower than any other developed country, due in large part to 3 out of 4 American adults and 1 out of 5 children (ages 6 – 19) being overweight or obese.  According to an article in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, obesity is often accompanied by coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, sleep apnea and other respiratory problems, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, and other conditions.  What one chooses to eat is not the only determinant of poor health and early death, but the Standard American Diet (SAD) plays a starring role.

The average calorie breakdown of the SAD, according to a 2009 graph from the USDA Economic Research Service, is as follows: 63% from processed foods, 25% from animal products, and only 12% from plants.  (My guess is, the first 2 percentages have increased & the third decreased since the graph data was compiled.) The dominance of nutrient-poor refined grains, fried foods, red & processed meats, and food additives results in biological chaos in our bodies.

Fresh veggies & brown rice with cubed tofu & homemade peanut dressing

If you are uncertain as to what processed foods are, think prepared & packaged, with added salts, sweeteners, preservatives, colors, and other chemicals.  Examples can include frozen pizza, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, french fries, tv dinners, canned soups, ice cream, snacks, breads, pastries, and soda & other sugar-sweetened drinks, even most juices.  Fast foods make the list, as do meals from “slow food” restaurants that utilize highly refined substances like artificial flavor enhancers, poor quality cooking oils, white flour & sugar, and sauces made with genetically modified corn syrup or other chemical additives.  

Prepackaged foods are often stripped of their nutrient content to extend shelf life.  Although they count toward the calories we consume (an astronomical 2775 on average daily) they don’t contribute a great deal to nourishing our cells.  It is common for food manufacturers to add plenty of cheap refined sweeteners, salt, and unhealthy fats to improve taste, mouthfeel, and encourage addiction. 

Veggie burger made from scratch & fixings

I’ve talked to many people who are unable to accept that the US government would allow food items to be sold here that cause harm.  But according to this report from the National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer, more than 2,500 chemical substances are intentionally added to foods to modify flavor, color, stability, texture, or cost. There has been no requirement to perform tests to determine carcinogenicity for most of them. Presently, over 43,000 research articles can be found on PubMed when searching food additives and disease.

If you eat a lot of processed foods, you might find that you don’t like the taste of fresh, home-prepared veggies.  Manufactured foods change the population of our gut microbes that control cravings and establish taste bias. (It is possible to change your taste preferences, if you’re wondering. Regularly trying new-to-you, healthier foods and doing a physician-approved 1-day water fast can help.)

Green breakfast smoothie preparation

The 25% of food from animal products eaten as a part of the SAD are not often stellar choices, either. Most livestock raised for commercial consumption in this country receive regular antibiotics and other chemical injections to hasten growth and promote survival within the deplorable conditions in which they live and die.  Further, according to the ASPCA, due to bovine growth hormones, unnatural diets, and selective breeding for increased milk production, a single dairy cow now produces 50 – 100 pounds of milk each day, a 10-fold increase from a few decades ago.  Personally, I believe the chemical exposure and inhumane treatment of these animals must contribute to the inflammation and disease caused by eating red & processed meats and dairy products.

Southwestern bowl with kelp

The Standard American Diet does not in any way promote well-being.  Taking responsibility for improving your health by eating fewer processed foods and animal products can result in a longer life with less risk for a debilitating disease.  Eating more of the Earth’s gifts of plants can help protect you from the SAD, the number one cause of death in the US.

Blessings for Health & Longevity,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

43 thoughts on “What Makes the Standard American Diet SAD?

  1. AMEN, Lisa. I’ve decided to go vegan and have stopped buying any non-vegan food. Once what I have left in the fridge and cupboard is gone, I’ll be free! A few weeks ago I bought a house brand bag of cheese curls via online shopping. One of the drawbacks of doing curbside grocery pickup is you can’t read the labels easily before choosing the products. I went to open the bag and saw a notice: “contains genetically modified ingredients.” Like a fool, I ate them anyway but it did send a chill down my spine 😦

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    1. Wow, good decision, Lisa! Congrats! Please be sure to keep an eye on your B12 and D levels. Vegans usually have to supplement. (I do!) I have mine checked each year with the rest of my bloodwork. Oh, and when you need a bagged snack fix, I’d suggest looking at labels to find one with the least amount of junk. And organic or non-GMO is important, as it sounds like you know! Enjoy the weekend! 🌞

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    1. Hey, Neil, agreed, those overweight/obesity figures are astounding! Portion sizes certainly contribute to the almost 3000 calories consumed daily. I believe those huge soft drinks are a culprit, as well. I appreciate your stopping by & sharing your thoughts! 🌞

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  2. Thank you for sharing this information with us. As always I learn something every time I read your posts. Keep up the great work, and thank you for doing the research you do to inform everyone of important information that we need to know. Have a wonderful day.

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  3. Oh Lisa I so second you on the SAD diet!~. and being witness to it personally with family members truly is alarming when they would rather take pills instead of take charge of their health. So well said and so much appreciated. 👏👏

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  4. Fascinating. Here in Canada, we’re ranked 16th. It surprises me that we’re that much higher than the USA because our diets are similar. One thing I do notice when I travel to the US, though, is the huge portion sizes in restaurants. I mean, who needs that much food? I always feel guilty about waste when I can’t eat it all.

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  5. Eye-opening, for sure. I am beginning the Meditteranean diet which feels like a really sensible food plan. I just stopped an RA medication that lifted my cholesterol into the stratosphere. That drug, combined with poor food choices is a recipe for disaster. Good info in this post. Thank you.

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    1. Hi, Bonnie Rae! Glad you enjoyed the post. Good to hear you’re going Mediterranean! And that you’re keeping an eye on how medications affect your health. Many of us never question the advice of doctors and wind up paying for it! Have a beautiful weekend! 🌞

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  6. The SAD is a sad state of affairs, yet it is very important to write and talk about it. As someone who consumed the SAD for a majority of their life, I know about the ramifications of this kind of diet. Conversely, as someone who does not participate in the SAD today, I also know about the ramifications of alternative diets. I was just taking with a coworker about how when you get rid of processed foods, how vibrant and tasty whole foods are. Especially sweets. Who knew that walnuts are actually sweet. It’s quite amazing. Wonderful write, Lisa. I enjoyed it much! ☺️

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  7. Thank you for sharing all of this information. We each need to make wise choices about we eat and what we don’t eat. The responsibility is ours. When I think back to some of my happiest childhood memories concerning food choices, I remember the joy of picking fresh berries…strawberries, blueberries, concord grapes, and mulberries. Nothing tastes as good as fresh-picked food. It is such a happy thing to pick one of your own home-grown tomatoes. Real food is just plain good. The problem is that a lot of the things that are labeled as ‘food’ are not real at all…so many chemicals, preservatives, additives. It is a very scary thing.

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    1. Hi, Linda, you’re right, it is scary the way things are labeled. And you’re spot on when you say personal health is our responsibility. In this country, profit is king, and things are done in a way that benefits those with the deepest pockets, regardless of how people suffer. Taking charge of our own health is the only chance we have to survive and thrive. 🌞

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  8. To compound the problem, the American Health Care system is perceived by so many as a crisis reactionary system where one expects to take chemicals rather than prevent conditions before they happen. Our high death rate from COVID might be proof of this conclusion.

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    1. Agreed! When covid first started spreading in this country, I shared with my life partner that I was afraid the US would lead the world in overall cases & deaths. Prevention is always better than looking for a magic bullet after the fact. Thanks for dropping in! 🌞

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  9. Another great article Lisa. I remember reading a couple of years ago that fruit juice contains quite a lot of sugar – one would think this is the “healthier” option because it contains fruit, but in the end, water is probably your best bet (and I would like to believe tea as well – of course without the sugar).
    And just one other thought … we love stir fry. My husband (who is of course the chef in our house) always prepares the stir fry with fresh vegetables – and not the frozen packs – he says the joy of choosing your own vegetables AND chopping them up yourself, is part of fun of preparing stir fry. I have tasted both versions and the fresh vegetables are a clear winner!

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    1. Corna, hi! Thanks for your kind words & for sharing your experience. I love stir-fries, too, with plenty of fresh garlic and ginger. My partner will eat them, but only if I prepare a sauce, which is good, too, but I like them naked! Have a fun-filled week, girlie! 🌞

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