Weight Loss Advice: Don’t Eat Like a “Typical American”

As a nutrition expert, people are always asking me for my “weight loss secrets.” The truth is, I don’t have any secrets. I think the credible information that would help most people is already out there. Things are changing ever so slowly. I see a growing trend toward simplifying weight loss strategies. Many people are saying that they aren’t dieting (yay!), they’re just making healthier food choices and only eating when hungry. (That’s a big one. Try it for one day and you will realize, you really don’t know what hunger and fullness feels like.)

One simple tip I can offer is to avoid eating like a typical American – the SAD diet (Standard American Diet). I recently appeared on TV with a client to show how she is losing weight – and inches – by avoiding the SAD eating habits of typical Americans.

Here’s the low-down on the typical American eating habits from the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES a.k.a. the Census of food habits).

  • About 70% of Americans do not meet recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake. I like to crunch on veggies between meals and check my plate at lunch and dinner for fresh, steamed, or broiled non-starchy veggies. Looking for something new? Try fennel, jicama, and kale. Aim for 2-3 fruits a day. I like having one fruit with breakfast and one with lunch or dessert after dinner. Fruit is nature’s candy and really should form the foundation of sugar intake.
  • Americans get nearly 30 grams of saturated fat per day. Some saturated fat is fine. You may find it in coconut milk, coconut oil, or lean animal meats. The recommendation is less than 10% of calories. Since we all eat different calories, our limits are different. If you focus on adding in plant foods and limiting meats, animal skins, solid fats like butter, and cheese you should be in your range. Most healthy adults need 2,000 calories or less, which puts the upper level of saturated fat at 22 grams a day. Replacing a fast food burger meal (about 14 g saturated fat) with a home cooked vegetarian meal will help you slash it way down.
  • The average American consumes about 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. It is most important to get naturally occurring sugars from fruits and dairy products. Watch the added sugar found in flavored drinks, yogurts, and desserts. Check labels. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar to 6 tsp/day for women (100 kcal) and 9 tsp/day for men (150 kcal).
  • Cut way back on salt intake. The typical American gets more than 3500 mg of salt a day. The recommended range is 500-2100 mg per day. Ask for “no salt” when ordering at restaurants. You can also split an entree and a large garden (veggie) salad. Pile half the plate with veggies and the other half with “anything else.” It’s a quick way to eat less of the salty prepared food and get in veggies, which are naturally low in salt. You should also read labels of sauces and marinades you buy for the quick and healthy meals you’re trying to make at home.

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