Eating Less Is Not The Answer For Everything

I wrote a month or so about the “western” diet, and the connection between our unhealthy eating pattern and the spread of obesity and type 2 diabetes around the world. This eating pattern is usually summed up as too many calories, too much saturated fat, too much sodium, and too many refined carbohydrates and concentrated sweets. My previous post illustrated this perfectly by listing Americans’ top sources of daily calories (#1 was “grain-based desserts”).

But, poor nutrition isn’t always about getting too much. The common foods of the “western” diet also leave us with too little key nutrients, and this issue is illustrated by data collected in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2007-2010. In information labeled “Usual Intakes From Food and Beverages”, consider the following:

  • 95% of men (all ages) don’t get enough fiber- women older than 50 do slightly better, where "only" about 85% fall short on getting adequate dietary fiber
  • 50% of adult men and 43% of adult women don’t get enough vitamin A
  • About 1/3 of females older than 50 get too little vitamin B6
  • 97% of adult women and 89% of adult men get too little choline
  • 50% - 60% of adults get insufficient vitamin C
  • More than 90% of adults don’t get enough vitamin D
  • 94% of men and 85% of women get too little vitamin E
  • 75% of men and 60% of women get too little vitamin K
  • More than 70% of women older than 50 don’t get enough calcium
  • Almost 60% of adult men and women get insufficient magnesium
  • More than 95% of adult men and women get too little potassium

These are serious deficiencies which show how our eating habits can fail to provide adequate nutrition. Of course, supplements help close the gap in some cases. And, you don’t see thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, folate and iron deficiencies on this list because the refined grains in our popular grain-based desserts are fortified with these compounds. But, these vitamin and basic elements play key roles in metabolism.

The main point is that reducing your daily calories, fat and sugar by cutting your consumption of doughnuts, corn chips, sausage pizza and energy drinks does not make a healthy diet. The negative impacts of the “western” diet are almost certainly as much about what we don’t eat.

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